Feds Ask to Halt State AG Emoluments Case

(CN) – The Justice Department asked the Fourth Circuit on Monday to stay a lawsuit filed by two attorneys general accusing President Donald Trump of violating anti-corruption clauses of the U.S. Constitution through his businesses.

The DOJ filed a 38-page petition on Trump’s behalf imploring the Richmond, Virginia-based federal appeals court to reverse U.S .District Judge Peter Messitte’s decision to allow Democratic attorneys general to go forward with their complaint based on the Constitution’s so-called emoluments clauses, which prohibit the president from receiving gifts from foreign or state governments or officials while in office. 

The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. (Associated Press)

The lawsuit, filed in June 2017 by attorneys general in the District of Columbia and Maryland, alleges that Trump’s failure to distance himself from his business holdings while in office has essentially led to the acceptance of emoluments by the president via foreign and domestic government spending on his hotels and businesses.

Messitte narrowed the scope of the lawsuit to center around the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and business conducted in the D.C. area.  

The judge has approved discovery in the case, which would require 13 Trump entities to hand over business tax returns and other records. The first discovery deadline is Jan. 3.

In Monday’s petition to the Fourth Circuit, DOJ attorneys argued that a hotel visit does not constitute an emolument.

“The complaint rests on a host of novel and fundamentally flawed constitutional premises and litigating the claims would entail intrusive discovery into the president’s personal financial affairs and the official actions of his administration,” the petition states. “Despite this remarkable complaint, the district court treated this case as a run-of-the-mill commercial dispute.”

The filing continues, “A foreign government’s mere subjective hope that its payments for services furnished by the hotel might influence the president does not mean that his derivative financial interest in the hotel’s commercial profits are transformed into prohibited emoluments of his office.”

The DOJ has twice attempted to dismiss the case, which its petition said is “the first ever filed by any plaintiff seeking judicial enforcement of the emoluments clauses.”

According to the Associated Press, subpoenas were sent Dec. 4 to the General Services Administration, Defense Department, Commerce Department and Agriculture Department – all of which have spent taxpayer dollars at the Washington hotel or have information about relevant expenses.

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