WASHINGTON — A three-judge panel delivered a victory to President Donald Trump on Wednesday, dismissing a lawsuit claiming he illegally profited from foreign and state dignitaries staying at the luxurious downtown Trump International Hotel.
States attorneys general for Maryland and the District of Columbia filed the lawsuit claiming Trump was in violation of a constitutional clause on emoluments.
The panel of judges from the Virginia-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Justice Department, saying the attorneys general had no standing to bring the case.
Meanwhile, a federal judge in the District of Columbia ruled last month that a similar lawsuit brought by congressional Democrats could move forward. It serves as the basis of a House investigation headed by Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., which is ongoing.
“I’ve always believed that Congress is best positioned to hold Donald Trump accountable for his gross violation of the public trust,” Titus said, adding that the rulings only confirm that view.
Trump hailed the dismissal in the 4th Circuit on Twitter.
Exceeding constitutional role
“Word is out that I won a big part of the Deep State and Democrat induced Witch Hunt,” Trump wrote. “Unanimous decision in my favor from The United States Court of Appeals For The Fourth Circuit on the ridiculous Emoluments Case.”
Justice Department spokeswoman Kelly Laco said in a statement: “The court correctly determined that the plaintiffs improperly asked the courts to exceed their constitutional role by reviewing the president’s compliance with the Emoluments Clauses.”
Maryland District Attorney Brian Frosh told several news outlets that he was weighing an appeal in the case, which he said is likely to go to the U.S. Supreme Court for review.
In a statement, Frosh and Karl Racine, the D.C. attorney general, said they would not abandon their efforts to hold Trump accountable for “violating the nation’s original anti-corruption laws.”
The ruling does not have an immediate impact on the federal court ruling in the District of Columbia last month in favor of House Democrats who have launched an investigation into the president’s ties to his hotel and profits from foreign governments.
The Justice Department has filed an appeal with U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturn the ruling and stop the House investigation.
Congress also investigating
The House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on public buildings, which Titus chairs, is gathering information about the Trump Organization lease with the General Services Administration at the Old Post Office, where the Trump International Hotel is located.
The president has not severed his ties to the Trump Organization, which is run by two of his sons.
“The courts have allowed our lawsuit to advance because the facts are on our side,” Titus said in a statement.
“It’s not just unethical for the president to accept payments from foreign interests looking to curry favor; it’s also illegal. No one is above the law in this country,” she said.
The 4th Court of Appeals judges in the Maryland case said the emoluments clauses were broad prohibitions to guarantee a president’s independence and restrict his ability to accept financial benefits from foreign or state officials seeking influence.
That ruling overturned a federal judge in Maryland who had allowed the case to proceed. The lawsuit cited the impact of the president’s ownership of property near the White House and its impact on competing businesses, as well as corruption concerns.
The three-judge panel disagreed.
“Even if government officials were patronizing the hotel to curry the president’s favor, there is no reason to conclude that they would cease doing so were the president enjoined from receiving income from the hotel,” the judges said.
The judges also wrote that the Maryland federal judge should have allowed the Justice Department to appeal his findings before a ruling instead of forcing an emergency appellate court decision.
In the separate decision, a District of Columbia federal judge ruled in favor of House Democrats, finding that Trump had failed to get congressional permission to profit from proceeds to his hotel from foreign governments, a violation of the Constitution.