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A federal judge just ruled that an unprecedented Democratic legal challenge against Trump and his business can go forward

Matt Linden

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A federal judge ruled Friday that congressional Democrats have standing to sue President Donald Trump over what they claim are violations of an arcane constitutional clause because he is still conducting business overseas.

There are two separate lawsuits aimed at the president for allegedly violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which bars elected officials from receiving gifts, payments, or benefits from foreign governments without the consent of Congress.

US District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that roughly 200 members of Congress, led by Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, had standing to sue Trump because he did not ask Congress before accepting anything that could be considered a foreign emolument.

The judge did not rule as to whether Trump was in violation of the emoluments clause. But he ruled that because Trump’s business’ acceptance of revenue from foreign entities was not approved by Congress, members to have a right to sue and find out whether Trump is indeed in violation. Sullivan ruled that Trump has an obligation to get Congress to approve such foreign business.

“The Clause requires the President to ask Congress before accepting a prohibited foreign emolument,” Sullivan wrote, adding that “the President is accepting prohibited foreign emoluments without asking and without receiving a favorable reply from Congress” if what Democrats are alleging in their lawsuit is true.

Trump still owns his business, the Trump Organization, though he passed off control of the company to his two adult sons and a senior executive prior to taking office. The business has multiple overseas ventures, and the organization’s Washington, DC, hotel is often patronized by foreign officials.

Trump’s attorneys have argued that the president is not in violation of the clause because the money received through his business does not constitute an emolument. The Trump Organization announced earlier this year that it donated more than $150,000 in what it described as profits from foreign government business at Trump’s Washington, DC, hotel to the US Treasury.

A Trump Organization official did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sullivan additionally wrote that this lawsuit was distinct from one filed by the attorneys general for Washington, DC, and Maryland. A federal judge found that those attorneys general had standing because of the impact foreign business at Trump’s Washington, DC, hotel was having on other businesses in their jurisdictions.

Sullivan wrote that “challenge seeks to remedy entirely different injuries.”

“Accordingly, if these plaintiffs do not have standing to bring their claims to address their alleged injury, it is unlikely that another plaintiff would, rendering the Clause unenforceable against the President except via impeachment,” Sullivan wrote.

In a conference call with reporters Friday evening, Blumenthal called the decision “a major breakthrough” and “a milestone triumph for the rule of law.”

He accused the president of violating the emoluments clause “with impunity.”

“The next step will be to overcome their objections on the legal issues of what constitutes an emolument, but I believe we will move forward and gain access to key information on Donald Trump’s income and financial dealings,” Blumenthal added.

This summer, Blumenthal told reporters that he was concerned by recent trademarks China awarded to Trump businesses, “the deals with the Trump organization around the world, the pattern of dealings by the Trump Hotel here in Washington with foreign governments, and in fact the appointment of a sales manager to deal with those foreign governments specifically.”

“We are the only ballgame, the only parties that can enforce the emoluments clause against defiance and lawbreaking by the president of the United States on a core principle and tenet of the United States Constitution,” Blumenthal said.

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