Rule of Law

DOJ Asks DC Circ. To Halt Dems’ Emoluments Suit

The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday urged the D.C. Circuit to block a suit by congressional Democrats accusing President Donald Trump of violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause by illegally profiting from his private businesses while in office, saying the case “rests on a host of novel and flawed constitutional premises.”

The administration said in a brief that the court should halt or at least pause the case while it considers the request. Otherwise, the records produced through “intrusive discovery” into Trump’s personal financial affairs “would undoubtedly be publicized and used to distract and harass the president,” the administration said.

“Allowing such a gambit would distract the president from the performance of his constitutional duties in similar ways as seeking discovery directly against the president,” the brief said.

This request comes almost two weeks after U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan dismissed the president’s bid to halt the case filed by more than 200 lawmakers. He gave Democrats until Sept. 27 to collect evidence to prove their claims.

In his dismissal, Judge Sullivan wrote that the “case will be poised for resolution within six months” and that Trump has failed to show that an “immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation.”

Democrats alleged in their complaint that Trump runs afoul of the Constitution’s anti-corruption provision by accepting financial benefits from foreign governments, pointing to his luxury D.C. hotel, which has generated money by hosting multiple events for foreign leaders.

The foreign emoluments clause prohibits anyone “holding any office of profit or trust” from accepting titles, emoluments or offices from any foreign state or monarch unless explicitly approved by Congress. The domestic emoluments clause prevents any president from receiving any emolument from the U.S. beyond a standard salary.

DOJ attorneys doubled down on their argument that Democrats lack the authority to sue the president and that the money he made through his private business interests didn’t constitute gifts.

They also assailed the judge’s order in Monday’s brief, lamenting that he “treated this case as a run-of-the-mill commercial dispute” and has also “ignored the unique separation-of-powers concerns posed by discovery in a case against the president in his official capacity.”

Since taking control of the House last year, Democrats have been locked in a bitter battle with Trump over transparency and potential conflicts of interest with the president’s privately owned business. Trump has also rebuffed numerous requests for financial records, a dispute that is playing out in other court cases.

Also on Monday, Democrats said they have issued 37 judicial subpoenas to a “number of Trump business enterprises, including the Trump Organization, seeking information about foreign government payments accepted by six Trump properties, as well as trademarks granted to Trump businesses by foreign governments.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., one of the leading forces behind the suit, said in a statement that “we simply don’t yet know the full scope of his lawbreaking.”

He added, “Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration is still seeking to delay, delay, delay, but we are confident that the D.C. Circuit will recognize the well-reasoned logic of the district court, and allow discovery to proceed.”

Trump is battling a similar suit by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia. In that case, the DOJ has successfully blocked subpoenas, at least for now, seeking financial records and other documents related to Trump’s D.C. hotel.

The lawmakers are represented by Brianne J. Gorod, Elizabeth B. Wydra and Brian R. Frazelle of the Constitutional Accountability Center.

Trump is represented by Jean Lin, James R. Powers and Bradley P. Humphreys of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Division.

The case is Blumenthal et al. v. Trump, case number 1:17-cv-01154, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.