A federal judge has refused to delay a landmark lawsuit against President Donald Trump — and as part of the reasoning for his ruling he relied on an attitude expressed by Trump’s own tweets.
U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte of Maryland refused a Justice Department request to halt the lawsuit against Trump, which accuses him of violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution. The clause bars federal officials from accepting gifts or benefits from foreign officials or governments.
The case, filed by the attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, D.C., says Trump is skirting that prohibition by profiting from his Trump International Hotel in the District of Columbia, just blocks away from the White House. The suit contends foreign leaders can curry favor with the president via pricey bookings and parties in his hotel.
The Friday ruling means that the plaintiffs will likely move quickly to obtain income and business documents from the president ― and possibly tax returns, which Trump has declined to release.
One of the arguments the Justice Department used against the suit was that it would be a burden and too much of a “distraction” for the president to deal with while running the country.
But Messitte noted in his ruling that the “president himself appears to have had little reluctance to pursue personal litigation despite the supposed distractions it imposes upon his office.”
In one tweet in August featured in a New York Times story that was cited by Messitte, Trump challenged former CIA director and frequent critic John Brennan to sue him.
The judge also cited Trump’s apparent eagerness to head to court over issues linked to tell-author Michael Wolff, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and porn star Stormy Daniels.
District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, who is up for re-election Tuesday, called Messitte’s ruling a “big win” and vowed to “stop Trump from illegally profiting from the presidency.”
Messitte noted in his ruling that income from Trump’s hotel can legally be considered emoluments. Trump’s “apparent receipt of benefits from at least some foreign and state governments ... suggest that he has received ‘emoluments’ in violation of the Constitution,” he wrote.
He added that foreign governments have “expressly stated in the media that they are patronizing the President’s hotel precisely because he is the President.” He added that it “appears likely” in some cases that “payments to his hotel are being made with an expectation of favorable treatment by the President in matters of foreign policy.”
Revenue at the Trump International Hotel in New York jumped 13 percent in the first three months of 2018 — after years of falling revenue — thanks to spending by the entourage accompanying controversial Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman, according to the hotel’s general manager. Turkey has accused the prince of orchestrating the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi last month. Trump was slow to speak out against the attack.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated Khashoggi’s nationality. It also misstated the last name of author Michael Wolff.