Trump Emoluments Case Can Proceed, Federal Judge Says

By William Vogeler, Esq. on July 26, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Don't expect President Trump to check out of his own hotel, but some of his foreign guests may have to following a court ruling.

A federal judge ruled that the emoluments case may proceed against the president, based on allegations that he has profited from foreign or state officials while in office. Maryland and Washington, D.C. filed suit against him for violating the emoluments clause by receiving income from the Trump International Hotel.

Trump's attorneys tried to throw out the lawsuit, but the judge said an emolument is "any profit, gain or advantage." The ruling was a big tip -- and a lot more than a $20 bill -- that the president might be in trouble.

Emolument Definition

In District of Columbia v. Trump, Judge Peter Messitte ruled the plaintiffs had a plausible claim that payments made by foreign and state governments to the hotel violated the Constitution's foreign and domestic emoluments clauses.

The president's attorneys had argued the prohibition against emoluments doesn't apply to a president, but the judge didn't buy it. (Messitte is not on the president's short list and probably won't be, just saying.)

"The historical record reflects that the framers were acutely aware of and concerned about the potential for foreign or domestic influence of any sort over the president," Messitte wrote.

It could be a game-over kind of ruling because the paper trail is clear. It's not like tracing $150,000 or $130,000 that was allegedly paid to a Playmate or porn star for "silence," right?

One More or Less Emolument

In any case, it's not the first time Trump has been sued over emoluments. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics and a restaurant industry group filed suit against the president, but it was dismissed.

Judge George Daniels said the plaintiffs lacked standing. He also said it's up to Congress, not the courts, to decide whether the president should divest his business interests while in office.

"Congress is not a potted plant," he noted. "It is a co-equal branch of the federal government with the power to act as a body in response to defendant's alleged foreign emoluments clause violations, if it chooses to do so."

(Trump won't be elevating Daniels, either. He's a Clinton appointee.)

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