A federal judge dismissed President Donald Trump’s latest effort to stop a lawsuit alleging him of violating the Constitution, and it could open the door to much more intense scrutiny of the president’s namesake business.
On Wednesday, US District Judge Peter Messitte ruled in a Maryland court that the attorneys general for Maryland and Washington, DC can advance with their lawsuit against Trump that claims he has violated a little-known section of the Constitution called the emoluments clause. That clause bars public officials from receiving gifts or cash from foreign or state governments without congressional approval.
The attorneys general, Democrats Brian Frosh of Maryland and Karl Racine of Washington, DC, allege that Trump is violating the emoluments clause through his Washington, DC hotel, which engages in business with both foreign and state governments. The two attorneys general previously proved they had standing to make such a claim by arguing that businesses within their jurisdictions were losing business as a result of government officials instead opting to go to Trump’s hotel.
Wednesday’s ruling, which followed arguments over what defined an emolument, appeared to be the first time a federal judge interpreted the clause and made such a ruling. The ruling can be challenged.
If it stands, it could bring never-before-seen scrutiny to the Trump Organization.
Messitte’s 52-page opinion said that the emoluments clause could apply to Trump and cover any business transactions with foreign government officials in which Trump made a “profit, gain, or advantage.”
“This includes profits from private transactions, even those involving services given at fair market value,” Messitte wrote.
Earlier this year, the Trump Organization reported roughly $150,000 in profits derived from foreign governments and donated that amount to the Treasury Department. Though he stepped away from his company when he took office, the president still owns the Trump Organization.
Both the Department of Justice, which argued the case on behalf of Trump, and the Trump Organization pushed for Messitte to dismiss the case. In arguments last month, the Justice Department insisted that Trump couldn’t possibly be breaking the emoluments clause because he isn’t providing any favors in return for foreign government spending money at his Washington, DC, hotel.
“We continue to maintain that this case should be dismissed,” the Justice Department said in a statement .
Meanwhile, Frosh and Racine want to push forward now that they’ve notched another victory in the case, and seek to interview Trump Organization employees and review company records. The attorneys general told Business Insider earlier this year that they may try to obtain Trump’s tax returns, which have not been made public.
“Today’s historic ruling is a substantial step forward to ensure President Trump stops violating our nation’s original anti-corruption laws,” Racine said in a statement. “The Constitution is clear: the president can’t accept money or other benefits from foreign or domestic governments.”
Prior to Wednesday’s ruling, the case had already made it further than any other lawsuit focused on Trump and the emoluments clause.
Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which worked with Frosh and Racine on the case, praised the decision in a statement.
“This is a historic day for the Constitution,” he said, adding, “Americans need to know that their president is acting in their interest and not in the interest of his private businesses.”