Trump Beats Congressional Democrats’ Emoluments Lawsuit

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump beat back a lawsuit by 215 congressional Democrats who say he has been violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause by profiting from foreign government spending at his Washington hotel and other properties, capping a triumphant week for the president.

A 3-0 federal appeals court in Washington on Friday said the House and Senate members lack legal standing to sue the president because they had not been injured by his alleged conduct. None of the judges was appointed to the court by Trump.

The ruling is the latest victory for Trump, who was acquitted in the Senate Wednesday on articles of impeachment brought by the Democratic-controlled House and found his opposition in disarray following their botched Iowa Caucus.

Trump addressed the ruling as he departed the White House for a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It’s another phony case and we won it three to nothing,” the president said.

The court left open the possibility that a congressional lawsuit might be able to move forward if a majority of either house authorized it. House Democrats are still reviewing the ruling and have yet to decide whether to hold a vote on a new suit, according to a senior aide. Nevada Democrat Dina Titus, one of the House members who participated in the dismissed suit, on Friday tweeted her support for such action.

Supreme Court

Friday’s decision was the second by a federal appeals court throwing out an emoluments lawsuits against the president. Another appeals court allowed a third case to proceed though, potentially setting the issue up for consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Constitution bars presidents from accepting things of value, or emoluments, from foreign governments without congressional consent. The Democrats who filed the lawsuit had sought an order requiring the president to get approval to keep any profits from foreign governments and state-controlled companies.

The appeals court overturned an earlier ruling that found the Democrats had standing because the president deprived them “of the opportunity to give or withhold their consent [to foreign emoluments], thereby injuring them in their roles as members of Congress.”

Trump opted to retain his domestic and international business holdings, including the luxury Trump International Hotel located just blocks from the White House, after winning the presidency. In lieu of divestiture, he said he was transferring control of those entities to his sons Donald Jr. and Eric and to Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg.

In their lawsuit, the Democrats claimed the president has been enriched by foreign governments including those of Saudi Arabia and China.

Limited Decision

The judges did not address Trump’s argument that profits from an ongoing business shouldn’t be considered emoluments. His family-owned company opened the Washington hotel, in a building leased from the government, a few months before the 2016 election.

The lawyer who represented Congress stressed the decision’s limited nature. “It is important to recognize that today’s ruling is not a decision on the merits,” Elizabeth Wydra, of the Constitutional Accountability Center, said in a statement. “The Court of Appeals did not in any way approve of President Trump’s repeated and flagrant violations of the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause.”

U.S. Circuit Judges David Tatel, a nominee of President Bill Clinton, Karen LeCraft Henderson, who was named to the bench by George H.W. Bush and Thomas Griffith, an appointee of George W. Bush, issued the ruling.

A federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, last year dismissed an emoluments suit filed jointly by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia, though the court agreed in October to reconsider their decision An appeals court in New York revived a third suit in September, after a lower court dismissed it.

The case is Blumenthal v. Trump, 19-5237, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (Washington).

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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