Judge Denies Trump's Request to Halt Emoluments Lawsuit, Allows Case to Proceed

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US President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order on "improving price and quality transparency in healthcare" in the Grand Foyer of the White House on June 24, 2019. MANDEL NGAN/Getty

A federal judge on Tuesday rejected the Justice Department's request to put an emoluments lawsuit against President Donald Trump on hold, handing an intermediate victory to congressional Democrats who are suing the president over his ongoing financial interest in the Trump Organization, which receives business from foreign officials.

"This tremendous victory assures that President Trump will be held accountable to the Constitution and the American people – a historic triumph for legally mandated transparency," Democratic Senator Richard Blumental, a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, told Newsweek in a written statement. "For more than two years, President Trump has thumbed his nose at the American people in flagrant violation of the law. Today, the courts spoke: no longer."

Department of Justice lawyers, arguing on behalf of the president, requested that Judge Emmet Sullivan put the trial in the D.C. District Court on hold while they appeal two critical decisions that bolstered the Democrats' case. The judge denied the Justice Department's motions and requests for appeal on Tuesday and ordered the case to proceed.

The case is one of three ongoing lawsuits against the president for alleged violations of the Constitution's Emoluments Clause, which is widely understood to prohibit foreign transactions with government officials, though the language has never been definitively parsed by the federal courts. There are also no clear punishments for a violation, though the House of Representatives could view it as an impeachable offense, or Trump could be made to divest from his namesake business.

Brianne Gorod, chief counsel of the Constitutional Accountability Center, which is representing the Democrats suing the president, said that Sullivan's decision serves as a rejection to "President Trump's effort to run out the clock on this important lawsuit."

"Our Constitution's Framers adopted the Foreign Emoluments Clause to ensure that our nation's leaders, including the President, would act in the national interest, not in their own financial self-interest," Gorod said in a written statement. "But for over two years, the President has been making sensitive foreign policy decisions under a cloud of potentially divided loyalty and compromised judgment caused by his enrichment from foreign states."

In a consequential and controversial move ahead of his inauguration, then-President-elect Trump announced an ethics plan to distance himself from his sprawling business empire while serving in the Oval Office, though this plan did not include a divestment of his interests in the Trump Organization as former ethics officials had called for. This means that, when foreign officials stay at his properties, Trump could be the ultimate recipient of the profits derived from those visits.

The Trump Organization has pledged to donate profits earned from foreign government patronage during Donald Trump's presidency.

Deepak Gupta, whose firm is representing plaintiffs in two of the other emoluments lawsuits, told Newsweek that today's decision clears an important procedural hurdle for congressional Democrats and narrows the Justice Department's available strategic options.

"The immediate practical impact of this decision is that the plaintiffs will be able to move forward with discovery against the president on a very quick schedule, within the next six months," Gupta said. "Unless the president and his lawyers are able to get a higher court to intervene, this case is going to discovery and Trump is finally going to have to reveal information about the extent to which his properties are accepting payments from foreign governments."

Sullivan wrote in his order that Trump "failed to meet his burden of establishing" that either of the intermediate appeals would likely materially advance his case. In part because of the expedited timeframe for the trial—discovery and final motions are expected to be completed within six months—the president wasn't able to show that having to first proceed with arguments would be excessively burdensome.

The judge had previously determined that approximately 200 Democrats in the Senate and House of Representatives had standing to sue Trump for the alleged Emoluments Clause violations. In another opinion, the judge defined the term "emolument" quite broadly—as any "profit, gain or advantage"—conferring a massive advantage to the plaintiffs who need to prove that foreign money indirectly winding its way through the Trump Organization's books constitutes an emolument.

Gupta said that he expects the president to try and get the D.C. Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, a "pretty unusual" step for an appellate court to take in response to an order such as the one Sullivan issued.

But in one of the other two emoluments suits, in the District of Maryland, an appeals court granted Justice Department lawyers a review of a similar order made by the trial judge in that case. While the circuit court is still deliberating on that decision, Gupta told Newsweek that the issues at play in the Maryland case were not directly comparable to Sullivan's findings that had been contested by the president's lawyers.

"The standing issues are a bit different in each of the three cases," he said, meaning that a similar intervention by the D.C. Court of Appeals could not be inferred from the Maryland case.

A recent NBC News analysis of the public record found that representatives of 22 different foreign governments have spent money at various Trump Organization properties since 2017.

"Every American should be incredibly troubled by this jaw-dropping news," Deepak Gupta told Newsweek when the analysis was released. "The Framers of the Constitution were very concerned about the danger that foreign powers could corrupt our Republic by lining the President's pockets. That's exactly why we have a Foreign Emoluments Clause. Donald Trump has been violating that Clause since Day One of his presidency."

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Judge Denies Trump's Request to Halt Emoluments Lawsuit, Allows Case to Proceed | Politics