A federal judge said Tuesday a lawsuit accusing President Donald Trump of violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause could go forward, rejecting an effort by the White House to get the case thrown out.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan sided with nearly 200 members of Congress who have sued Trump, alleging his ongoing ties to a sweeping business empire continue to enrich him while in office. The lawmakers allege Trump’s business dealings have repeatedly violated the emolument clause, which prohibits those in federal office from accepting any payments or gifts from foreign governments without first seeking the “consent” of Congress.
“This decision is a tremendous victory and vindication of a common sense reading of the Constitution,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), one of the lawmakers behind the suit, said in a statement. “The court soundly rejected the president’s absurd argument that he is above the law.”
Trump’s legal team had argued that the term “emolument” should be used only when it comes to payments that are specifically used as bribes, but not more broadly for any payment that could flow from one of Trump’s properties into the president’s pocket. Sullivan disagreed, writing in a 48-page opinion that the clause was written broadly “to achieve its purpose of guarding against even the possibility of ‘corruption and foreign influence.’”
“The Court is persuaded that the text and structure of the Clause, together with the other uses of the term in the Constitution, support plaintiffs’ definition of ‘Emolument’ rather than that of the President,” Sullivan wrote.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kelly Laco told Politico the government would continue to oppose the suit, saying: “As we argued, we believe this case should be dismissed, and we will continue to defend the president in court.”
If the case goes forward, investigators could potentially gain access to some financial documents related to Trump and his businesses, which the president has vehemently guarded amid a bevy of probes. Earlier this week, Trump and his family sued to stop two banks from releasing his bank records in response to subpoenas from congressional committees.
The emoluments case is likely to head to a federal appeals court and could ultimately end up before the Supreme Court, The Washington Post notes.
A separate case related to the emoluments clause has been held up in the court system. The attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, D.C., sued over the president’s hotel in the capital, saying Trump had violated the provision by accepting money from foreign guests.
The attorneys general were temporarily blocked from gathering evidence or issuing subpoenas in the case by an appeals court in December.