WASHINGTON — A federal judge Wednesday rejected a Trump administration request to throw out a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s financial interest in his Washington hotel.
U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte in Greenbelt, Md., allowed the suit — filed by the attorneys general of Washington and Maryland — to proceed.
The AGs’ lawsuit, filed in June 2017, contends Trump’s financial stake in the hotel poses a conflict of interest and violates the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause, forbidding the president from “accepting any present, emolument, or title” without consent of Congress, and the domestic emoluments clause, which bars the president from any emolument from the U.S. while in office.
The suit also claims the hotel, where foreign diplomats often stay, unfairly competes with the hospitality industry in the nation’s capital and Maryland.
The suit sought to block Trump’s profiting from a myriad of far-flung global businesses the plaintiffs say violate the emoluments clauses.
But Messitte narrowed the case to the Trump International Hotel, blocks from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue.
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, both Democrats, welcomed the judge’s decision to allow the suit to proceed.
Racine said in an email: “Today’s historic ruling is a substantial step forward to ensure President Trump stops violating our nation’s original anti-corruption laws. The Constitution is clear: the president can’t accept money or other benefits from foreign or domestic governments.
“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.”
Frosh tweeted soon after the decision:
With @AGKarlRacine and @CREWcrew, we are working to hold the President accountable to the nation's original anti-corruption laws. Federal judge allows emoluments case against Trump to proceed https://t.co/nV7Kfg4Jqv
— Brian Frosh (@BrianFrosh) July 25, 2018
In the suit, the AGs wrote: “The President’s violations of the Emoluments Clauses undermine the trust the American people are entitled to in their government. It is fundamental to our system of self-governance that our duly elected Presidents and the governments over which they preside will always act in singular pursuit of our liberty, security, health, and well-being.”
Officials at the Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Department attorneys have argued Trump has not violated the Constitution by hosting foreign officials for stays and events at the hotel because they are paying guests and thus not giving the president gifts.
In a separate lawsuit, 200 Democrats in Congress have asked a federal judge in Washington to force Trump to seek congressional approval before accepting emoluments.
Trump has not divested his assets, as previous presidents have done. The Democratic lawmakers said in court papers that the Trump Organization, which the president owns, has more than 550 business entities in 20 countries. The Democrats’ lawsuit said the president has benefited from foreign patronage of his hotels, golf courses and event centers, rentals of his office space and licensing deals from representatives of countries including China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait