Rule of Law

Democrat-Led Emoluments Case Faces Reckoning

Heading to court for the first test of his emoluments clause challenge, Senator Richard Blumenthal told reporters he is confident that the suit against President Donald Trump will advance.

“The issue on Thursday will be whether members of Congress can enforce that right that is given to them by the United States Constitution,” Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said in a press call. “And it comes down to whether I can do my job.”

Scheduled for 10 a.m., the hearing before U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan comes nearly a year to the day that Blumenthal and roughly 200 Democratic members of Congress filed suit.

The case is one of several that says the payments, benefits or gifts Trump receives by virtue of his varied business entanglements amount to emoluments prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.

Blumenthal told reporters Tuesday that if Congress doesn’t have standing in the case, no one else will.

“This argument on Thursday will essentially put to the test the proposition that no one is above the law, not even the president,” Blumenthal said.

Unlike the emoluments challenge in Maryland, which calls it unfair that Beltway-area hotels must compete with the president, Blumenthal’s case seeks a broader remedy that can address the full scope of the president’s potential foreign financial corruption.

“It’s certainly true that the D.C. hotel, which is being challenged in the other cases, is an obvious emolument to this potential foreign corruption, but it’s not arguably the most worrisome aspect of his foreign financial dealings,” said Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, in Tuesday’s press call.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York, noted in the call that Trump is the first president in modern times to refuse to divest from his private business interests and place his assets into a blind trust.

“As a result, every time the government of Saudi Arabia rents a hotel room in one of his hotels, or when the government of China gives 35 copyrights to his interest, they are putting money directly into the pocket of the president,” said Nadler, who is the lead plaintiff in the Blumenthal case on the House side.

These deals raise questions about whether decisions Trump makes are in the public interest or his own private interests, Nadler added, pointing to the instance last June where the administration sided with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates after it broke diplomatic ties with long-time U.S. ally Qatar.

It is possible American foreign-policy considerations were the sole basis there, Nadler said, but he noted another possibility is that it was influenced by the president’s personal investments and financing coming from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“This is why the emoluments clause is there,” he said.

Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec declined to comment on the case.

To date, only one of the three emoluments lawsuits brought against Trump has been unsuccessful.

Rejecting a Manhattan suit by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, U.S. District Judge George Daniels found last year that only Congress – not private citizens – can act on the emoluments clause.

U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte specifically rejected that conclusion, however, when he advanced the Maryland case this past March.

In Washington meanwhile, where the Blumenthal case is pending, attorneys at the Department of Justice insist that the lawmakers do not have standing.

They argued in a May 1 supplemental brief that the emoluments clause does not guarantee lawmakers an inherent right to approve specific gifts.

That right is bestowed upon the entire Congress, Trump is arguing, not individual members who are not guaranteed a right to vote on any lawmaker’s specific request to consent to emoluments.

The Justice Department also noted in an earlier filing that Blumenthal’s suit was only brought after lawmakers failed to secure a vote on any of the proposed bills seeking to hold the president accountable for potential emoluments violations.

“Plaintiffs could not convince their own colleagues in Congress to take the actions they desired, and now seek the aid of the Judiciary to circumvent the legislative process prescribed by the Constitution,” the Sept. 15 motion says.