RICHMOND, Va. — A federal appeals court threw out a lawsuit accusing President Donald Trump of illegally profiting from the presidency through his luxury Washington hotel, handing Trump a significant legal victory Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned the ruling of a federal judge in Maryland who said the lawsuit could move forward.

The state of Maryland and the District of Columbia sued in 2017, claiming Trump has violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution by accepting profits through foreign and domestic officials who stay at the Trump International Hotel. The case is one of three that argue the president is violating the provision, which prohibits federal officials from accepting benefits from foreign or state governments without congressional approval.

In the case before the 4th Circuit, the court found the two jurisdictions lack standing to pursue their claims against the president, and granted a petition for a rare writ of mandamus, directing U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte to dismiss the lawsuit.

Trump heralded the decision in a tweet, saying, “Word just out that I won a big part of the Deep State and Democrat induced Witch Hunt.” Trump tweeted that he doesn’t make money but loses “a fortune” by serving as president.

Trump’s personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, called the decision “a complete victory.”

“We are pleased that the Fourth Circuit unanimously decided to dismiss this extraordinarily flawed case,” Department of Justice spokeswoman Kelly Laco said in a statement.

During oral arguments before the panel in March, lawyers for Maryland and the District of Columbia said Trump’s status as president is a driving factor for foreign and domestic government officials to stay at his hotel.

Just blocks from the White House, the iconic Old Post Office quickly became a hot spot for lobbyists and foreign officials after it reopened in October 2016 as the Trump International Hotel. A public relations firm working for Saudi Arabia spent nearly $270,000 on food and rooms. The Philippine and Kuwaiti embassies have also had parties there.

Maryland and the District claim they have suffered harm because more people would stay at hotels in their jurisdictions if they weren’t eager to curry favor with the president by staying at his hotel.

The court, however, wrote that Maryland and the District’s “interest in enforcing the Emoluments Clauses is so attenuated and abstract that their prosecution of this case readily provokes the question of whether this action against the President is an appropriate use of the courts.”

Trump’s legal team had argued that Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine — both Democrats — lack authority to sue the president in his official capacity. Trump’s lawyers also argued that the emoluments clause only bars compensation made in connection with services provided in his official capacity or in “an employment-type relationship” with a foreign or domestic government.

The 4th Circuit’s decision to hear the unusual mid-case appeal put the lawsuit on hold before deadlines to respond to subpoenas issued in December seeking tax returns, receipts and other records from more than 30 entities, including 13 Trump businesses and the federal agency that oversees the lease for Trump’s hotel.

Racine and Frosh said in a joint statement that they would not abandon their efforts.

“Although the court described a litany of ways in which this case is unique, it failed to acknowledge the most extraordinary circumstance of all: President Trump is brazenly profiting from the Office of the President in ways that no other President in history ever imagined and that the founders expressly sought — in the Constitution — to prohibit,” the attorneys general said.

Racine has previously said that if the panel ruled against Maryland and the District, the legal team would seriously consider asking for a rehearing before the full 4th Circuit. He has also said it wouldn’t surprise him if the case ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

All three judges on the panel were nominated by Republican presidents: Paul Niemeyer, by George H.W. Bush; Dennis Shedd, by George W. Bush, and A. Marvin Quattlebaum, by Trump.

A similar case brought by nearly 200 congressional Democrats in the District of Columbia’s federal court also deals with the idea that Trump is using the presidency for his personal profit, but that case is uniquely different in that the Congress is specifically mentioned in the emoluments clause itself. On Monday, the Justice Department petitioned for a writ of mandamus in the D.C. appeals court and asked for a stay on the 37 subpoenas issued in that case.


Associated Press writers Tami Abdollah in Washington and Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(10) comments


I wonder which of our politicians at any level (federal/state/local) aren't "bought" to some degree? I wonder if I'd need more toes and fingers to count all of the ones who haven't profited in one way or another? Proving they've been influenced in a court of law is nearly impossible because it is such a high burden of proof. It seems that many of them can't even follow the guidance to avoid the appearance of conflicts.


I often wonder the same MD1756. Look at the number of Congress and Senators who have significantly increased their wealth while in office. Personally, I have no problem with the President still owning a business. What if he owned a chain of supermarkets? Would patronizing his market be currying favor? This President happens to own hotels and golf courses. This whole emoluments issue is just political grandstanding. Abolishing the ability to own property as President leads to the formation of a permanent political class, the antithesis of what the framers intended.


"..., the court found the two jurisdictions lack standing to pursue their claims against the president..." which is not the same as saying he's not profiting. Of course he is.


Interesting, twice I posted " Frosh is a jerk and a joke" and both times it was deleted. Yet every day people post far more disparaging comments about our president and they are allowed to remain. Further proof of the liberal bias the FNP is known for.


FNP and/or others are deleting comments that are not personal attacks, just maybe inconvenient truths (to steal from a well known person) that don't mesh with their personal beliefs. Additionally, FNP will sometimes not delete reported comments that are needlessly antagonizing or insulting. I guess they favor letting insults stand and longsighted thought provoking comments must be hidden.


I suspect it mostly has to do with who is on moderator duty and how busy they are with their other responsibilities.


Lack of "standing" is from the penumbral theory of jurisprudence that gave us Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade. If you don't like the reasoning underlying Roe v. Wade, you should object to this.


Note, the Court did not rule that what Trump is doing is legal, they ruled the Maryland and D.C. A.G..s don't have standing to sue and get a ruling of legality.  So, the question is who has the right to sue and enforce. " The Trump Organization is incorporated in both Delaware and New York, and it has business entities (LLCs) that could be conduits for emoluments in Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, California, Hawaii, and an increasing number of states as Trump expands his Trump and Scion brand hotel chains. ", should have the right to sue and get resolution.  The resolution should be; " The remedy is total divestment or dissolution of the corporation. " The Title of Nobility Clause is a provision in Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution, that prohibits the federal government from granting titles of nobility, and restricts members of the government from receiving gifts, emoluments, offices or titles from foreign states and monarchies without the consent of the United States Congress. The Clause is subject to interpretation.  Also known as the Emoluments Clause, it was designed to shield the federal officeholders of the United States against so-called "corrupting foreign influences." The clause is reinforced by the corresponding prohibition on state titles of nobility in Article I, Section 10, and more generally by the Republican Guarantee Clause in Article IV, Section 4. The word "emolument" has a broad meaning. At the time of the Founding, it meant "profit," "benefit," or "advantage" of any kind.  Because of the "sweeping and unqualified" nature of the constitutional prohibition, and in light of the more sophisticated understanding of conflicts of interest that developed after the Richard Nixon presidency, modern presidents have chosen to eliminate any risk of conflict of interest that may arise by choosing to vest their assets into a blind trust. As the Office of Legal Counsel has held, the Constitution is violated when the holder of an Office of Profit or Trust, like the President, receives money from a partnership or similar entity in which he has a stake, and the amount he receives is "a function of the amount paid to the [entity] by the foreign government."  This is because such a setup would allow the entity to "in effect be a conduit for that government," and so the government official would be exposed to possible "undue influence and corruption by [the] foreign government." The Department of Defense has expressly held that "this same rationale applies to distributions from limited liability corporations." My answers are yes and yes. The bottom line is that state attorneys general in states with a Trump corporation (and perhaps a Trump LLC, a statutory limited liability company) can bring a quo warranto proceeding to access information about whether the entities are conduits for illegal emoluments, to enjoin those activities, to force President Trump to divest, and/or to dissolve those entities. The Trump Organization is incorporated in both Delaware and New York, and it has business entities (LLCs) that could be conduits for emoluments in Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, California, Hawaii, and an increasing number of states as Trump expands his Trump and Scion brand hotel chains. “Emoluments” arguably might not be a payment of any kind, and indeed they may need to be office related. However, if a foreign official (or federal or state official) seeks to do business with a Trump entity because of Trump’s status as president or pays above market value as an effect of Trump’s office, then the payment is related to the office and it would be an emolument. The possibility of such intent or overpayment — by the foreign or state official, regardless of Trump’s specific awareness of the deal — would be enough of a factual claim to survive a motion to dismiss. Arguably, the rent payments from the Secret Service and Defense Department, forced to stay in Trump buildings in New York City become an office-related emolument. "The remedy is total divestment or dissolution of the corporation."




Our tax money well spent.

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