A United States appeals court has revived a lawsuit accusing President Donald Trump of illegally profiting from the US presidency through payments by foreign governments and domestic states to his hotel in Washington, DC.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals voted 9-6 to reject President Trump’s bid to block claims by the state of Maryland and the city of Washington, DC, alleging violations of the US Constitution’s anti-corruption provisions.
The lawsuit alleged violations of the constitution’s “emoluments” clauses – rarely tested in courts – that ban a president from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments without congressional consent. The plaintiffs seek a court order directing the president to divest himself of his interest in the Trump International Hotel.
Fourth Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, writing for the majority, said the court found the president had not established sufficient legal grounds for dismissal of the case.
“A petitioner must establish a clear and indisputable right to the relief sought for a writ of mandamus to issue, and the President has not done so,” Judge Motz wrote.
Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for President Trump, told Politico that Trump will take the issue to the US Supreme Court.
“We disagree with the decision of the Fourth Circuit,” Sekulow told Politico in a text message.
“This case is another example of presidential harassment. We will be seeking review at the Supreme Court,” Sekulow said.
Trump opened the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue just blocks from the White House shortly before he was elected in November 2016.
Trump, a wealthy real estate developer who as president regularly visits his own hotels, resorts and golf clubs, maintains ownership of his businesses – unlike past presidents – though he has said he has ceded day-to-day control to his sons. Critics have said that is not a sufficient safeguard.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain are among the foreign governments that have booked rooms and events at the Trump International since Trump entered the White House, according to reports by The Washington Post newspaper.
The Fourth Circuit judges split along ideological lines with Democratic appointees turning down Trump’s attempt to halt fact-finding ordered by a lower US court and Republican-appointed judges siding with Trump.
The appeals court did not rule on the underlying merits of the claim against the president. The plaintiffs are initially seeking business records of the Trump International and expense records of lower-level government officials.
In February, another US appeals court in Washington, DC threw out a suit filed by hundreds of Democratic politicians challenging Trump’s receipt of payments to the hotel from foreign governments. The court ruled the politicians did not have sufficient legal standing to claim injury.
In September, a US appeals court in New York revived a suit by a watchdog group on behalf of hospitality businesses and employees making similar claims against the president.
The Justice Department asked the full bench of that appeals court to review the decision. There has been no ruling on that request, which has effectively kept that suit on ice for more than six months, according to Politico.