Judge Allows Anti-Corruption Lawsuit Against Trump's DC Hotel To Proceed

Donald Trump

Donald Trump. Jonathan Ernst Reuters

U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte in Greenbelt, Md., on Wednesday rejected one of the Justice Department's arguments that he dismiss the lawsuit.

Last year, department lawyers persuaded a federal judge in New York City to throw out a lawsuit, filed by different plaintiffs, that alleged similar violations.

"Their allegation is bolstered by explicit statements from certain foreign government officials indicating that they are clearly choosing to stay at the president's hotel because, as one representative of a foreign government has stated, they want him to know 'I love your new hotel, '" Messitte wrote in his 47-page ruling.

"In the court's view, these circumstances do not, as the president maintains, involve numerous inferential leaps to demonstrate injury to the quasi-sovereign interests of Maryland and the District of Columbia insofar as the president's purported violations of the domestic emoluments clause are concerned", Messitte wrote.

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"This is a major step forward for the emoluments litigation", said Norman Eisen, a former chief ethics lawyer for the Obama administration and chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, also called CREW.

The emoluments case raises basic questions that have never been litigated. The AGs mainly argue that governments like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have spent thousands of dollars at Trump's Washington, D.C., hotel to curry favor with the president. The AGs also said state governments, like Maine's, have patronized the hotel, which has also sought to market itself specifically to diplomats.

But the judge also warned the plaintiffs that their "claims sweep too broadly", saying "it is a considerable stretch, however, to find the requisite injury-in-fact" to Maryland and D.C. from Trump properties outside of Washington. Trump has moved to dismiss the third, lodged in a Washington trial court by dozens of Democratic lawmakers led by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of CT. He also noted that Maine Gov. Paul LePage, while in Washington previous year, stayed at the Trump International Hotel and, not long after, Trump signed an executive order regarding national monuments that could be favorable to LePage.

"There are at least 15 "high-end" restaurants and hotels in Maryland and 32 in the District of Columbia that can be said to either directly compete with the [Trump] Hotel's restaurant, BLT Prime, or with the hotel itself, for event and meeting spaces", Messitte wrote. "The basic principal here is Donald Trump is not above the law, and the court recognized that and said that we can enforce the nation's original anti-corruption law", Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh told the Washington Post. Messitte said it "remains to be seen" which capacity will work for the case, but that the issue would not block the case for now. "As the president himself concedes, plaintiffs are challenging the president's acceptance of money taken through private transactions-something that has 'nothing to do with the president's service ... as president'".

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