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Trump emoluments clause lawsuit: Dems have standing, judge says



Donald Trump
Donald Trump.
Wilson/Getty Images

  • A federal judge ruled that congressional Democrats have
    standing to sue President Donald Trump over alleged violations of
    the emoluments clause.
  • Trump’s legal team has insisted that he is not in violation
    of the constitutional clause.
  • The clause bars elected officials from accepting gifts,
    payments, or benefits from foreign governments without the
    consent of Congress because revenue his business generates from
    foreign entities is not an emolument.

A federal judge ruled Friday that congressional Democrats have
standing to sue President Donald Trump over what they claim are
violations of an arcane constitutional clause because he is still
conducting business overseas.

There are two separate lawsuits aimed at
the president for allegedly violating the emoluments clause of
the Constitution, which bars elected officials from receiving
gifts, payments, or benefits from foreign governments without the
consent of Congress.

US District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that roughly 200 members
of Congress, led by Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of
Connecticut and Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, had
standing to sue Trump because he did not ask Congress before
accepting anything that could be considered a foreign emolument.

The judge did not rule as to whether
Trump was in violation of the emoluments clause. But he ruled
that because Trump’s business’ acceptance of revenue from foreign
entities was not approved by Congress, members to have a right to
sue and find out whether Trump is indeed in violation. Sullivan
ruled that Trump has an obligation to get Congress to approve
such foreign business.

“The Clause requires the President to ask Congress before
accepting a prohibited foreign emolument,” Sullivan wrote, adding
that “the President is accepting prohibited foreign emoluments
without asking and without receiving a favorable reply from
Congress” if what Democrats are alleging in their lawsuit is

Trump still owns his business, the Trump Organization, though he
passed off control of the company to his two adult sons and a
senior executive prior to taking office. The business has
multiple overseas ventures, and the organization’s Washington,
DC, hotel is often patronized by foreign officials.

Trump’s attorneys have argued that the president is not in
violation of the clause because the money received through his
business does not constitute an emolument. The Trump Organization
announced earlier this year that it donated more than $150,000 in
what it described as profits from foreign government business at
Trump’s Washington, DC, hotel to the US Treasury.

A Trump Organization official did not immediately respond to a
request for comment.

Sullivan additionally wrote that this lawsuit was distinct
from one filed by the attorneys general
for Washington, DC, and Maryland
. A federal judge found that
those attorneys general had standing because of the impact
foreign business at Trump’s Washington, DC, hotel was having on
other businesses in their jurisdictions.

Sullivan wrote that “challenge seeks to remedy entirely different

“Accordingly, if these plaintiffs do not have standing to bring
their claims to address their alleged injury, it is unlikely that
another plaintiff would, rendering the Clause unenforceable
against the President except via impeachment,” Sullivan wrote.

This summer, Blumenthal told
reporters that he was concerned by recent trademarks China
awarded to Trump businesses, “the deals with the Trump
organization around the world, the pattern of dealings by the
Trump Hotel here in Washington with foreign governments, and in
fact the appointment of a sales manager to deal with those
foreign governments specifically.”

“We are the only ballgame, the only parties that can enforce the
emoluments clause against defiance and lawbreaking by the
president of the United States on a core principle and tenet of
the United States Constitution,” Blumenthal said.

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