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- A Justice Department lawyer insisted in federal court on Monday that President Donald Trump cannot possibly be breaking an arcane clause of the Constitution because he isn’t providing foreign governments any favors in return for their business.
- That argument was a part of the latest hearing related to a federal lawsuit accusing the president of violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution through his Washington, DC, hotel.
- The emoluments clause bars public officials from receiving gifts or cash from foreign or state governments without congressional approval.
A Justice Department lawyer insisted in federal court on Monday that President Donald Trump cannot possibly be breaking an arcane clause of the US Constitution because he isn’t providing any favors in return for foreign government interests spending money at his Washington, DC, hotel.
That argument was a part of the latest hearing related to a federal lawsuit filed by the attorneys general for Maryland and Washington, DC. The attorneys general accuse the president of violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution through his hotel in the nation’s capital. The emoluments clause bars public officials from receiving gifts or cash from foreign or state governments without congressional approval.
On Monday, lawyers for Maryland and Washington, DC, argued to US District Judge Peter Messitte that Trump was “profiting on an unprecedented scale” from those foreign governments frequenting the hotel, which they said is a magnet for such interests and hurts other local businesses who would otherwise be benefiting from the business those foreign officials provide if the Trump hotel wasn’t directly tied to the president.
The case has already made it further than any other lawsuit focused on Trump and the emoluments clause.
“This is the first oral arguments focused on the meaning of the emoluments clause in American judicial history,” Norman Eisen, chairman of the ethics watchdog Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, which is arguing the case alongside Maryland and Washington, DC.
The Associated Press reported that Messitte peppered lawyers on both sides over their arguments in the Monday hearing, which was focused on determining the definition of an emolument, as the Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and Washington, DC, Attorney General Karl Racine told Business Insider last month.
“The president’s interpretation is that the Trump post office hotel is a giant straw that he can use to suck payments from foreign governments from all over the world and use them for his benefit,” Frosh said outside the court, the AP reported.
Messitte, who ruled earlier this year that Maryland and Washington, DC, had standing to sue in the case, citing the loss of potential customers by businesses in their jurisdictions, said he planned to rule by the end of July on whether the case can again move forward. If so, Frosh and Racine have said they want to advance quickly to discovery, where they may seek Trump’s personal tax returns as well as other Trump Organization documents.
‘We don’t have to prove a quid-pro-quo in this case. All we have to do is prove a quid’
Both Frosh and Racine told Business Insider last month that the emoluments argument, the focus of Monday’s hearing, would be easier than initially establishing standing in the case, which they did in April.
The ultimate aim here by the attorneys general is to take Trump out of receipt of revenues from the Trump hotel, they said. Prior to taking office, Trump opted to pass his stake in the company to his two sons and a senior executive at the business instead of divesting himself of the assets, as past presidents had done and as ethicists implored him to do.
“Whether Trump is corrupt or not, we want to cut off the potential sources of corruption,” Frosh said. “We want to cut off the blandishments. … We don’t want him to be tempted. We don’t have to prove a quid-pro-quo in this case. All we have to do is prove a quid.”
Racine, who used to work in the White House counsel’s office under former President Bill Clinton, said Trump could do something very simple to make this entire lawsuit go away.
“This is where you take a step back,” he said. “All the president has to do to end this case is to simply firmly and fully and transparently take himself out of the receipt of revenues. That’s it.”
“From a practical standpoint, it’s almost shocking that he’s not doing that,” he continued. “And instead, he’s going to test the Constitution of the United States, an arcane clause that’s never been tested in federal court. It’s rather stunning.”
Last week, another emoluments clause suit made its way into federal court. On Thursday, a federal judge in Washington, DC, heard arguments in an emoluments clause lawsuit pushed by Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and backed by about 200 congressional Democrats.