Rule of Law

Trump Bashes ‘Untenable’ Emolument Case In DC Circ.

President Donald Trump has urged the D.C. Circuit to squash a suit by congressional Democrats accusing him of breaking a constitutional ban on foreign payments, saying a lower court’s sweeping view of the clause is “untenable” and would make almost every president in history a violator.

Trump is fighting the Democrats’ claims that he has enriched himself through his office by hosting foreign dignitaries at his various hotels, including his luxury property that sits blocks from the White House, and not detaching himself from the business.

Democrats on both sides of Capitol Hill — led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut — persuaded a D.C. federal judge to preserve their lawsuit over Trump’s objections that the lawmakers lacked standing and that profiting from his private hotel business did not violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which was meant to head off foreign influence. The judge put the case on hold to let Trump administration lawyers appeal.

U.S. Justice Department attorneys on Tuesday told the appeals court that U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan took too broad a view of the provision, urging the appeals court to instead “adopt an interpretation consistent with the plain text, historical practice and common sense.”

“And under that interpretation, which prohibits only compensation accepted from a foreign government for services rendered by an officer in either an official capacity or employment-type relationship, the president’s share of the profits from governmental customers of his businesses does not constitute a prohibited emolument,” the DOJ said.

Trump hopes to overcome a pair of rulings against his position, including Judge Sullivan’s finding in April that the Democrats could seek to enjoin Trump from violating the emoluments clause and not cause the president an unconstitutional burden.

Also contrary to Trump’s arguments, the judge ruled in September 2018 that the members of Congress had Article III standing to sue him because their allegations amount to more than a political dispute between the elected branches of government.'”

Legal efforts challenging Trump’s private business activities in other circuits have had a rougher sail. The Fourth Circuit in July tossed a similar emoluments case over Trump’s ownership interest in the Trump International Hotel, finding Maryland and D.C.’s allegations of harm to them and their residents from the president’s alleged violations of the clause too remote or generalized to give them standing.

But a split Second Circuit panel recently revived a different emoluments suit that was tossed by a lower court saying a restaurateur and hotelier has sufficiently shown that statements by Trump may have lured dignitaries to Trump-branded establishments, hurting other high-end hospitality businesses.

In the case now before the D.C. Circuit, the Democrats claim Trump has defied the Constitution’s anti-corruption provision by accepting financial benefits from foreign governments, pointing in particular to his luxury D.C. hotel, which has generated money by hosting events for foreign leaders. Along with Blumenthal, the suit is joined by numerous Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.

In Tuesday’s filing, Trump argued that “in allowing this extraordinary suit to proceed, the district court made three novel and untenable rulings.”

First, they said, the decision that individual members of Congress have Article III standing to sue for alleged institutional injuries to Congress is “contrary to both longstanding and recent Supreme Court precedent.”

Second, the district court “usurped power to create a cause of action in circumstances that Congress has not authorized,” the DOJ argued, nor has Congress expressly authorized suit against the president, which, at a minimum, separation-of-powers principles require.

And third, the district court “adopted a sweeping understanding of the term ‘emolument’ that contradicts the text and context of the clause and that would mean numerous presidents from the founding to the present have likely violated the clause.”

The lawmakers are using a flawed interpretation, Trump said, because the clause “prohibits only compensation accepted from a foreign government for services rendered by an officer in either an official capacity or employment-type relationship.”

“That interpretation is supported by the clause’s text and context, as well as by consistent executive practice from the founding era to modern times,” Trump said.

“The broader interpretation advanced by the members and adopted by the district court — covering any profit or gain — is contrary to these indicia of constitutional meaning and would lead to absurd results.”

Counsel for the lawmakers declined comment Wednesday. Blumenthal’s office had no immediate comment.

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

Trump is represented by Mark R. Freeman, Michael S. Raab, Martin Totaro and Joshua Revesz of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division.

The case is Richard Blumenthal et al. v. Donald Trump, case number 19-5237, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.