Fourth Circuit Scrutinizes Claims Trump Is Illegally Profiting From D.C. Hotel

March 19, 2019 by Dan McCue

A federal appeals court panel repeatedly pushed back Tuesday at claims by two attorneys general who say President Trump is illegally profiting from foreign and state government visitors at his luxury hotel in downtown Washington.

At the center of the hearing before a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The clause bans federal officials from accepting benefits from foreign or state governments without congressional approval. The attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia, both Democrats, claim government spending at the Trump International Hotel clearly violates it.

In March 2018, a federal judge in Maryland allowed the case to proceed, holding the plaintiffs had “sufficiently alleged that the president is violating the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses of the Constitution by reason of his involvement with and receipt of benefits from the Trump International Hotel.”

The 47-page opinion by U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte also cited the profits derived from operations of the Trump Organization with respect to the hotel.

Messitte adopted a broad definition of the emolument clause ban, saying it includes any profit, gain or advantage received “directly or indirectly” from foreign and state governments. It was the first time a federal judge had interpreted the emoluments clause.

Trump’s attorneys immediately appealed the ruling, arguing the president should be shielded from such legal distractions.

They are also asking the Fourth Circuit to throw out an order from Judge Messitte authorizing scores of subpoenas to federal government agencies and Trump’s private business entities.

Trump has said he’s donated nearly $350,000 to the U.S. Treasury during his first two years in office.

The Fourth Circuit panel that heard the case Tuesday is considering whether the District of Columbia and Maryland have standing to pursue the case, and the request from the president that the litigation be tossed out.

From the outset of Tuesday’s hearing, the judges seemed highly skeptical of the arguments made by Loren AliKhan, solicitor general for the District of Columbia, who represented D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh.

For instance, U.S. Circuit Judge Paul Niemeyer, who was appointed to the appeals court by former President George H.W. Bush, noted that the president has already stepped back from day-to-day management of the hotel.

And even if Trump’s name was scrubbed from the building, foreign dignitaries would still book rooms and events there, Niemeyer said.

Frosh and Racine maintain hotels in Maryland and Washington have been harmed because foreign and state government officials are more likely to stay at Trump’s hotel in an attempt to curry favor with the Republican president.

But U.S. Circuit Judge Dennis Shedd, another George H.W. Bush appointee, suggested Trump’s name on the Washington hotel may actually be benefiting those other businesses because people who object to the president’s policies won’t want to stay under his roof.

Arguing on behalf of the Trump administration, Justice Department attorney Hashim Mooppan said while he appreciated the judges’ assertions, the emoluments clause only bars payments made in connection with services the president provides in his official capacity.

And he went on to insist Maryland and the District of Columbia have no authority to sue the president in his official capacity over payments the president’s business accepts from other governments.

“The president is unique,”  Mooppan said. “That’s why he gets absolute immunity.”

Both Maryland and the District of Columbia have responded to this in court filings, contending that Trump’s alleged misconduct is unrelated to the functions of his office, so absolute immunity does not apply.

U.S. Circuit Judge A. Marvin Quattlebaum Jr., the third judge on the panel and a Trump appointee, wanted to know exactly what the attorneys generals would want the president to give up to satisfy the emolument clause requirements.

“My view is it covers any profit, gain or advantage,” AliKhan said.

The panel also roughed AliKhan up on the question of what relief the attorneys generals are seeking.

“You filed the lawsuit and you don’t even know what real world relief would satisfy,” Niemeyer said at one point.

AliKhan offered that ordering Trump’s full divestment of his ownership stake may be an option.

Mooppan disagreed.

“This case should simply be over,” he said.

Trump won rights to lease the U.S. government’s Old Post Office site in 2012 and opened it as a luxury hotel in October 2016, just weeks before he won the presidential election.

The hotel, located just blocks from the White House, quickly became a hot spot for lobbyists and foreign officials.

According to published reports, a public relations firm working for Saudi Arabia spent nearly $270,000 on food and rooms. The Philippine and Kuwaiti embassies also have thrown parties there.

Justice Department

Federal Judge Agrees to Keep Seal in Place in Cohen Campaign Finance Probe Law
Federal Judge Agrees to Keep Seal in Place in Cohen Campaign Finance Probe
May 21, 2019
by Dan McCue

A federal Judge in New York agreed to continue to seal search warrant materials related to an investigation of campaign finance violations by President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen. The decision by U.S. District Judge William Pauley III came after prosecutors informed him their... Read More

Trump’s Federal Judge Pace Matches Recent Presidents — But With a Big Twist Justice Department
Trump’s Federal Judge Pace Matches Recent Presidents — But With a Big Twist

WASHINGTON — In what the White House, Republican senators and right-leaning organizations hailed as a major milestone, President Donald Trump last week saw his 100th judicial nominee confirmed by the Senate. But his record of getting federal judges confirmed is largely in line with his most... Read More

House Democrats Start Contempt of Congress Process Against Barr Justice Department
House Democrats Start Contempt of Congress Process Against Barr

WASHINGTON — House Democrats plan to take the first step to holding Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress on Wednesday, in their push to get an un-redacted version of the Mueller report and its underlying investigative material. The House Judiciary Committee scheduled a markup... Read More

Mueller Complained to Barr About How He Characterized the Russia Investigation Justice Department
Mueller Complained to Barr About How He Characterized the Russia Investigation

WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III complained to Attorney General William Barr that Barr’s initial letter to Congress about the Russia investigation did not “fully capture the context, nature and substance of this office’s work and conclusions,” a Justice Department official said Tuesday. Mueller... Read More

Rosenstein Leaving May 11 After Tumultuous Term Overseeing Mueller Justice Department
Rosenstein Leaving May 11 After Tumultuous Term Overseeing Mueller

WASHINGTON — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein plans to resign May 11, ending a controversial tenure in which he appointed special counsel Robert Mueller and took actions that won him praise — and anger — from both the right and left. “The Department of Justice made... Read More

Fourth Circuit Scrutinizes Claims Trump Is Illegally Profiting From D.C. Hotel Justice Department
Fourth Circuit Scrutinizes Claims Trump Is Illegally Profiting From D.C. Hotel
March 19, 2019
by Dan McCue

A federal appeals court panel repeatedly pushed back Tuesday at claims by two attorneys general who say President Trump is illegally profiting from foreign and state government visitors at his luxury hotel in downtown Washington. At the center of the hearing before a three-judge panel of... Read More

Straight From The Well
scroll top