Judge: Trump emol­u­ment case can go for­ward

Finds con­vinc­ing ar­gu­ment for en­rich­ment of pres­i­dent

The Washington Times Weekly - - Hiking Into Political Morass - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Pres­i­dent Trump’s pro­ceeds from his busi­ness em­pire are “emol­u­ments” un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion, so a law­suit chal­leng­ing the pres­i­dent’s re­fusal to dis­tance him­self from his ho­tels can move for­ward, a fed­eral judge ruled.

District Judge Peter J. Mes­sitte said Mary­land and the District of Columbia have “con­vinc­ingly ar­gued” that Mr. Trump may be en­rich­ing him­self from his ho­tels while serv­ing as pres­i­dent.

The prob­lem comes when cus­tomers are ei­ther U.S. gov­ern­ment agen­cies or for­eign gov­ern­ments — both of which are pro­hib­ited from en­rich­ing a sit­ting pres­i­dent un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion’s two emol­u­ments clauses.

Mr. Trump ar­gued that nei­ther ho­tel room rents nor the con­tract he signed to lease the gov­ern­ment’s Old Post Of­fice Build­ing for a ho­tel in the District of Columbia rose to the level of the kind of com­pen­sa­tion that would trig­ger the emol­u­ments clause.

Judge Mes­sitte, a Clin­ton ap­pointee to the fed­eral court in Mary­land, re­jected that ar­gu­ment.

“An ‘emol­u­ment’ within the mean­ing of the Emol­u­ments Clauses was in­tended to reach be­yond sim­ple pay­ment for ser­vices ren­dered by a fed­eral of­fi­cial in his of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity, which in ef­fect would merely re­state a pro­hi­bi­tion against bribery. The term was in­tended to em­brace and ban any­thing more than de min­imis profit, gain, or ad­van­tage of­fered to a pub­lic of­fi­cial in his pri­vate ca­pac­ity as well, wholly apart from his of­fi­cial salary,” the judge wrote.

The rul­ing does not find Mr. Trump in vi­o­la­tion; it says only that the case is plau­si­ble enough to pro­ceed.

The judge pre­vi­ously ruled that the District and Mary­land had stand­ing to sue, but the lat­est rul­ing that in­come from Mr. Trump’s busi­nesses amounts to emol­u­ments clears an even big­ger hur­dle.

Lawyers in­volved in the case said it is the first time a fed­eral court has grap­pled with this spe­cific is­sue.

Mr. Trump, when he won the White House, an­nounced he would step down from day-to-day man­age­ment of the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion, leav­ing op­er­a­tions to his chil­dren.

But he did not di­vorce him­self from it al­to­gether and still shares in the rev­enue from the or­ga­ni­za­tion — in­clud­ing its ho­tels, food ser­vices and even its space.

Mary­land and the District point to re­port­ing that for­eign gov­ern­ments and at least one state gover­nor in the U.S. have sought to stay at the Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel in the District, specif­i­cally be­cause it is con­nected to the pres­i­dent.

The ho­tel space is leased from the U.S. gov­ern­ment, the judge said, sug­gest­ing yet an­other av­enue for ad­di­tional com­pen­sa­tion be­yond what the Con­sti­tu­tion and Congress have set for the chief ex­ec­u­tive.

D.C. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Karl A. Racine called the judge’s de­ci­sion to let the case pro­ceed a “sub­stan­tial step” in the bat­tle against Mr. Trump.

“We sued be­cause this cor­rup­tion is tak­ing place in our back­yard, and be­cause 325 mil­lion Amer­i­cans shouldn’t have to won­der if the pres­i­dent is putting his per­sonal fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests ahead of the na­tional in­ter­est,” Mr. Racine said.

Mr. Trump’s busi­ness em­pire has drawn scru­tiny ever since he an­nounced his in­ter­est in run­ning for the White House. His re­fusal to di­vest him­self from his com­pany left many crit­ics com­plain­ing that he was us­ing the White House to en­rich him­self and his fam­ily.

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