Attorneys general for the District of Columbia and Maryland have expanded their lawsuit against President Donald Trump to include Trump in his personal capacity as a businessman.
As part of the process, they sent an official summon to Trump at his home, the White House, located on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Lawyers for Trump have 21 days to respond.
The suit brought by D.C. and Maryland alleges President Trump is violating two separate constitutional clauses: the foreign emoluments clause and the domestic emoluments clause.
The foreign emoluments clause prohibits the president from receiving “any present, Emolument, Office or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” This provision, Maryland and D.C. argue, is violated when foreign governments patronize his D.C. hotel and other properties, including the decision by the Embassy of Kuwait after the election to switch a major event to the Trump hotel, after initially booking the Four Seasons — an action first reported by ThinkProgress.
The domestic emoluments clause prohibits the president from receiving gifts or emoluments from the federal government or states. The lawsuit alleges that the federal government provided an improper benefit when it allowed Trump to maintain his lease for his D.C. hotel, which is federal property, despite an explicit provision banning elected officials.
Maryland and D.C. allege that Trump’s unconstitutional actions are stealing business away from other venues, convention centers in Washington, Baltimore and Bethesda. Maryland also claims it is losing tax revenue when the Trump hotel draws room and event bookings from private businesses in the state, including the MGM Casino at National Harbor.
This suit, however, addressed Trump as President of the United States. By allowing the plaintiffs to amend their initial lawsuit to include Trump the businessman, the judge in charge of the case, U.S. District Court Judge Peter Messitte, appears to be inclined to let the case proceed. In a Maryland court in January, Messitte repeatedly expressed concern that while the complaints revolve around Trump business dealings, the suit addresses Trump as president. Subsequently, the judge gave D.C. and Maryland the chance to amend the suit.
Similar emoluments suits, like one brought by ethics watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) along with a group of employees and owners of hospitality businesses like restaurant and hotels, have failed in the courts. The judge in the CREW case dismissed the suit because, in his opinion, the plaintiffs failed to show that use of Trump properties by foreign officials had harmed their businesses in any way.
The judge believed Congress, not the courts, should decide what is or isn’t constitutional.
“As the only political branch with the power to consent to violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause, Congress is the appropriate body to determine whether, and to what extent, Defendant’s conduct unlawfully infringes on that power,” the judge wrote in his dismissal. “If Congress determines that an infringement has occurred, it is up to Congress to decide whether to challenge or acquiesce to Defendant’s conduct. As such, this case presents a non-justiciable political question.”
Some legal experts, however, say the Maryland and D.C. lawsuit may have a better chance of moving forward, especially now that it addresses Trump as a businessman.
The president neglected to fully divest himself from his business empire before taking office, leaving Trump the ability to profit off the presidency. According to ProPublica, lawyers for Trump confirmed that the president can pull funds from his blind trust (consisting of his two sons running the day-to-day operations of the Trump Organization) whenever he wants without disclosing it to the public.