“Rejecting a request from President Trump, a federal judge in Washington on Tuesday cleared the way for nearly 200 Democrats in Congress to continue their lawsuit against him alleging that his private business violates an anti-corruption provision of the Constitution.
“U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan declined to put the case on hold and said lawmakers could begin this week seeking financial information, interviews and other records from the Trump Organization,” the report continued.
In a joint written statement, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, who spearheaded the litigation, declared victory. “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,” Blumenthal said. “In a thoughtful, well-reasoned opinion, Judge Sullivan articulated what the law makes clear: there is absolutely no reason to delay one more day in ensuring that President Trump is held accountable for his violation of the Constitution’s preeminent anti-corruption provision.” He added, “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.”
Nadler echoed that sentiment. “The Constitution is clear: the President must obtain Congress’s consent before receiving foreign benefits,” said Nadler. “Yet again, the courts have ruled in our favor as we seek to uphold the Constitution and prove that no one is above the law.” He concluded, “This is a great victory in our fight for transparency and accountability for the American people.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, put out her own statement, underscoring the importance of court victories in holding impeachment hearings at bay. “No one is above the law — not even the President,” she said. “Once again, the courts have resoundingly reaffirmed our efforts to hold the President accountable for corruption, and ensure that the President acts in the public interest, not his own interest.” Emphasizing that Congress is doing something despite the lack of formal impeachment hearings, she continued, “Congress will continue to honor our oath to support and defend the Constitution and protect the American people, as we legislate, investigate and litigate. The American people deserve answers – on everything from the President’s acceptance of foreign gifts, his refusal to defend our democracy from foreign attacks and his disastrous policy decisions that are raising families’ health costs, tearing apart immigrant families and rolling back key civil rights protections.”
As Trump has done in separate litigation brought by the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia, he can attempt to seek relief from the circuit court. However, it’s far from clear that he’ll find any relief there.
Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe expressed delight upon hearing of the ruling: “That is splendid news for the Emoluments Clause cases — and for the rule of law.” He added, “Today’s ruling confirms that the Trump strategy of denying, delaying, deflecting, and dissembling while continuing to defy the Constitution has all but run its course and that the chickens are finally coming home to roost.”
All it takes is one case — either the one emanating from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit or the D.C. case brought by lawmakers — to begin discovery, which would require Trump to open up his books to show from which foreign entities he is receiving money and the amounts of those “emoluments.” To date, we have heard sporadic accounts of his foreign receipts.
The Post, for example, reported, “Lobbyists representing the Saudi government reserved blocks of rooms at President Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel within a month of Trump’s election in 2016 – paying for an estimated 500 nights at the luxury hotel in just three months, according to organizers of the trips and documents.”
NBC issued a report calculating that 22 different governments have paid moneys to Trump, “hinting at a significant foreign cash flow to the American president that critics say violates the U.S. Constitution.”
However, these limited reports do not even touch on other sources of money and financial benefits — e.g., licensing deals, loans from foreign governments, sales of condos. To capture the entire universe of Trump emoluments, plaintiffs will need unprecedented access to the books of the Trump Organization, including tax returns. Trump has been fighting tooth and nail since he began running for president to keep that all hidden from view. Not only will discovery provide unprecedented insight into Trump’s foreign connections, and thereby expose specific conflicts of interest, but a favorable ruling for plaintiffs in either case would present Trump with the choice he has never been forced to make: His company or his presidency? If plaintiffs are right, he cannot keep both — at least to the extent his company takes in moneys from foreign governments.
Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post. Follow her @JRubinBlogger.