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Trump Emoluments Lawsuit: Judge Rules Attorneys General Can Demand Evidence

Plaintiffs suing President Donald Trump can begin demanding evidence from him and the Trump Organization within 20 days, a federal judge ordered on Nov. 2. The judge had previously limited those requests to information about the Trump International Hotel in D.C., located near the White House, but blocked a new effort to stall the case.

U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte ruled in a lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, D.C., that alleges Trump has violated the constitution in receiving fees from foreign governments by way of the Trump Organization. The judge previously found the two plaintiffs had a legal basis to sue, because of the states and D.C.’s particular relationship to the federal government.

Attorney General Karl Racine of D.C. said in statement, “We will soon provide the court a new schedule to begin the process of getting information about how President Trump is profiting from the presidency.” The judge said such a plan was due within 20 days.

Foreign governments have reportedly curried favor with Trump by renting out rooms and holding events at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. While Trump said he turned over daily management of his hotel and other businesses to his oldest sons, he retains a financial stake that allows him to profit directly.

The judge ruled against pausing the case for the Trump administration to expedite an appeal to a higher court. Trump’s attorneys claim that the payments for services at his hotel don’t qualify under the so-called “emoluments” clause of the Constitution that bars all federal officials from receiving gifts and money of any kind from foreign governments or sovereigns. The president’s attorneys argue that only direct payments for services or policies would apply.

The judge noted in his decision, that “by every reasonable metric, this appears to describe what is tantamount to a bribe, so above all else the President’s definition of the term ’emolument’ is exceedingly strained.”

But no court case has ever tested the Constitutional definition of emoluments.

The Trump Organization said it would donate profits from potentially conflicting non-U.S. sources, and stated in February 2018 that it had donated over $150,000 to the U.S. Treasury. However, the company has provided no accounting or auditing of its determination.