President Donald Trump will have to contend for now with a lawsuit claiming he is improperly profiting from his posh downtown Washington hotel.
U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte in Greenbelt, Maryland, on Wednesday rejected one of the Justice Department’s arguments that he dismiss the lawsuit. The judge said he’ll schedule another hearing to consider other claims by the government.
The ruling is a setback for Trump, who has said that he has no conflicts of interest and is not in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s emoluments clauses. Those provisions substantially prohibit a president from receiving gifts from a foreign government without the permission of Congress and from being similarly enriched domestically. Trump, the founder of the Trump Organization, is worth $2.9 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
The ruling is only preliminary. The judge said Maryland and D.C. have the right to pursue their case as it relates to the hotel and related businesses there, but he plans to consider other dismissal requests. Messitte granted Trump’s bid to dismiss a part of the suit that focused on profits from his company, The Trump Organization, that come from outside Washington.
The case is one of three filed against the president over the clauses. A New York federal court rejected one pursued by the progressive watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, in December. Trump has moved to dismiss the third, lodged in a Washington trial court by dozens of Democratic lawmakers led by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
“By accepting emoluments, the president creates a constitutionally prohibited market,” Maryland lawyer Steven Sullivan told the judge during January arguments in the case. Trump’s business draws customers from companies competing directly with his hotel, including the capital’s convention center and the National Harbor hotel and retail development due south of the capital in Maryland, he said.
Brett Shumate, a Justice Department attorney, called the Maryland-D.C. lawsuit “an abstract political disagreement” that should be thrown out entirely.
The case is District of Columbia v. Trump, 17-cv-1596, U.S. District Court, District of Maryland (Greenbelt).
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