Congressional Democrats Can Sue Trump Over Emoluments, Judge Says
(Bloomberg) -- Almost 200 Congressional Democrats got a go-ahead from a judge to pursue a lawsuit claiming that Donald Trump is violating a Constitutional ban on receiving benefits from foreign governments without their permission while he’s president.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington on Friday denied a Justice Department request to dismiss the lawsuit, filed last year by Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal and other members of the House and Senate. The judge ruled they have legal standing to pursue their claim, while deferring his decision on the merits of the dispute.
It’s another loss for the president who is fighting claims in three courts that he’s illegally profiting from his position. He twice failed to have a Maryland federal court lawsuit thrown out, where the state’s attorney general and his District of Columbia counterpart claim Trump is illegally taking payments from foreign and state governments at his Washington hotel.
The congressional Democrats are seeking an order compelling Trump to notify Congress when he’s offered an emolument, giving them the option to vote on whether he can accept it. Blumenthal has called the emoluments clauses the Constitution’s "premier anti-corruption provision."
Justice Department spokeswoman Kelly Laco said, “We believe this case should be dismissed, and we will continue to defend the president in court." The White House didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Blumenthal called the judge’s ruling a “a triumph for the rule of law” during a conference call with reporters and said it would prove that no president is above the law. New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who joined in the suit, also praised the court’s decision.
The judge’s ruling was welcomed by Laurence Tribe, a constitutional scholar who has been fighting the president in court and on Twitter.
Trump said he stepped down from running his $3 billion empire but retained his ownership interests, a decision the Democrats say violates the Foreign Emoluments clause because he’s getting payments from foreign governments without congressional approval.
While the Democrats claimed they’re being denied the right to vote on the benefits, attorneys for the president say the matter should be resolved in Congress, not in court. Justice Department lawyer Brett Shumate told Sullivan on June 7 that the legislators are always free to vote on whether the president can accept such benefits, meaning they didn’t suffer a legally recognizable injury giving them standing to sue.
The judge disagreed in his 58-page ruling. "Legislation on the emoluments issue does not provide an adequate remedy," and would compel the court to ignore the clause which, Sullivan said, "places the burden on the president to convince a majority of members of Congress to consent."
Legislation, as suggested by Trump’s lawyers, "flips this burden, placing the burden on Members of Congress to convince a majority of their colleagues to enact the suggested legislation. This is not what the clause requires."
The cases are Blumenthal v. Trump, 17-cv-1154, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington) and The District of Columbia v. Trump, 17-cv-1596, U.S. District Court, District of Maryland (Greenbelt).
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