Rule of Law

Lawmakers Suing Trump Over Enrichment Get a Grilling on Standing

  • Congressional Democrats say Trump violated emoluments clause
  • President’s lawyers argue appeals court should dismiss case

Two appeals court judges questioned whether 215 congressional Democrats can sue President Donald Trump for being enriched by foreign governments without official backing for the suit from the entire Congress.

U.S. Circuit judges David Tatel and Thomas Griffith in Washington repeatedly pressed the legislators’ attorney on Monday to address that issue as she sought to preserve trial court rulings allowing the lawsuit to go forward in the face of an appeal by the president’s attorneys.

“Congress speaks through a vote of the majority,” said Tatel, a nominee of President Bill Clinton and the lone Democratic appointee on the three-judge panel. “You don’t even have one house.”

Led by Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, House and Senate lawmakers sued Trump two years ago, accusing him of violating the U.S. Constitution’s foreign-emoluments clause, which prohibits federal officials including the president from accepting benefits from other nations without first asking Congress for consent.

As the judges quizzed attorney Elizabeth Wydra, the House’s Democratic leadership was holdings its own, unrelated hearings likely to result in articles of impeachment against the president.

The lawmakers’ case is one of three such suits against Trump arising from his decision to retain his worldwide business holdings, including a luxury hotel blocks from the White House that has done business with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other nations. In September, a U.S. appeals court in New York reinstated one of the suits, which is being pursued by a restaurant workers’ association and a hotelier.

Wydra told the appeals court that the Constitution entitles the lawmakers to a vote on whether Trump can retain benefits derived from foreign governments. They’re seeking a court order compelling the president to come to them for that permission.

“The president is acting as if Congress has granted its consent,” she said.

But Wydra earlier acknowledged to Griffith, who was appointed to the court by President George W. Bush, that Congress hasn’t taken an official position, potentially imperiling the lawmakers’ legal standing to pursue the case.

Justice Department lawyer Hashim Mooppan called the suit “extraordinary” and urged the panel to dismiss it. He said Congress should instead pass a law barring Trump from doing business with foreign governments, if it wanted to block the president.

The court didn’t indicate when it would issue a ruling.

The case is Blumenthal v. Trump, 19-5237, U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit (Washington).