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Federal judge ruled against Trump in emoluments clause lawsuit

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Donald Trump
Donald Trump.
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  • A federal judge dismissed President Donald Trump’s
    latest effort to stop a lawsuit alleging him of violating the
    Constitution.
  • Trump can challenge the ruling.
  • The judge ruled that the emoluments clause,
    which bars public officials from
    receiving gifts or cash
    from foreign or state governments
    without congressional approval, applies to Trump as it relates
    to his Washington, DC, hotel.

A federal judge dismissed President Donald Trump’s latest effort
to stop a lawsuit alleging him of violating the Constitution, and
it could open the door to much more intense scrutiny of the
president’s namesake business.

On Wednesday, US District Judge Peter Messitte ruled in a
Maryland court that the attorneys general for Maryland and
Washington, DC can advance with their lawsuit against Trump that
claims he has violated a little-known section of the Constitution
called the emoluments clause. That
clause bars public officials from
receiving gifts or cash
from foreign or state governments
without congressional approval.

The attorneys general, Democrats Brian Frosh of Maryland and Karl
Racine of Washington, DC, allege that Trump is violating the
emoluments clause through his Washington, DC hotel, which engages
in business with both foreign and state governments. The two
attorneys general previously proved they had standing to make
such a claim by arguing that businesses within their
jurisdictions were losing business as a result of government
officials instead opting to go to Trump’s hotel.

Wednesday’s ruling, which followed arguments over what defined an
emolument, appeared to be the first time a federal judge
interpreted the clause and made such a ruling. The ruling can be
challenged.

If it stands, it could bring never-before-seen scrutiny to the
Trump Organization.

Messitte’s 52-page opinion said that the emoluments clause could
apply to Trump and cover any business transactions with foreign
government officials in which Trump made a “profit, gain, or
advantage.”

“This includes profits from private transactions, even those
involving services given at fair market value,” Messitte wrote.

Earlier this year, the Trump Organization reported roughly
$150,000 in profits derived from foreign governments and donated
that amount to the Treasury Department. Though he stepped away
from his company when he took office, the president still owns
the Trump Organization.

Both the Department of Justice, which argued the case on behalf
of Trump, and the Trump Organization pushed for Messitte to
dismiss the case. In arguments last month, the Justice Department
insisted that Trump couldn’t possibly be breaking the
emoluments clause because he isn’t providing any favors in return
for foreign government spending money at his Washington, DC,
hotel.

“We continue to maintain that this case should be dismissed,” the
Justice Department said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Frosh and Racine want to push forward now that they’ve
notched another victory in the case, and seek to interview Trump
Organization employees and review company records. The attorneys
general told Business Insider earlier this year that they may try
to obtain Trump’s tax returns, which have not been made public.

“Today’s historic ruling is a substantial step forward to ensure
President Trump stops violating our nation’s original
anti-corruption laws,” Racine said in a statement. “The
Constitution is clear: the president can’t accept money or other
benefits from foreign or domestic governments.”

Prior to Wednesday’s ruling, the case had already made it further
than any other lawsuit focused on Trump and the emoluments
clause.

Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the watchdog group
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which
worked with Frosh and Racine on the case, praised the decision in
a statement.

“This is a historic day for the Constitution,” he said, adding,
“Americans need to know that their president is acting in their
interest and not in the interest of his private businesses.”

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