Yesterday a federal judge got to issue the first ever opinion on a particular constitutional matter.
InÂ the first judicial opinionÂ to define how the meaning of the Constitutionâ€™s anticorruption clauses should apply to a president, Judge Peter J. Messitte of the United States District Court in Greenbelt, Md., said the framersâ€™ language should be broadly construed as an effort to protect against influence-peddling by state and foreign governments.
He ruled that the lawsuit should proceed to the evidence-gathering stage, which could clear the way for an examination of financial records that the president has consistently refused to disclose. The Justice Department is expected to forestall that by seeking an emergency stay and appealing the ruling.
Greg Sargent wrote yesterday,
Two of the biggest stories in Washington right now â€” President Trumpâ€™s battle with lawyer Michael Cohen, and a federal judgeâ€™sÂ decisionÂ to let a lawsuit alleging ongoing violations of the emoluments clause proceed â€” are both converging toward one endpoint. Both demonstrate the degree to which Trump places his personal interests before those of the American people, and both may shed light on that wretched reality in much more detail in coming days than Trump ever bargained for. …
…Â In that ruling, a federal judgeÂ denied Trumpâ€™s motion to dismiss the lawsuitÂ brought by the attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, D.C., which alleges that Trump, whose businesses are regularly patronized by foreign officials, is violating the Constitutionâ€™s ban on officials accepting emoluments from foreign governments. The court rejected Trumpâ€™s effort to define â€œemolumentsâ€ very narrowly, and instead accepted the plaintiffsâ€™ argument that they constitute â€œprofit,â€ â€œgainâ€ or â€œadvantage,â€ i.e., the sort of profits that go to Trumpâ€™s businesses. This means the case now moves forward to determineÂ whetherÂ Trump reaped such profit, gain or advantage from foreign governments.
In an interview with me,Â Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which is involved in the lawsuit, laid out the next steps:Â D.C. and Maryland will now seek discovery access to the financial records of Trumpâ€™s businesses â€” in particular, the hotel he owns in D.C.Â â€œWeâ€™re going to seek records to show what benefits and payments the president got, and thatâ€™s going to include extensive business and financial records,â€ Bookbinder said.
Of course, Trump’s lawyers right now must be looking for a Trump-friendly federal judge to issue a stay.
But if he fails, Bookbinder says, the discovery process could â€œprove that the president has been receiving payments,â€ demonstrating this in a new level of detail documenting â€œforeign officials staying at the Trump hotel,â€ which could in turn show that â€œthe president is violating the constitution.â€
There are all kinds of ways this could play out. The larger point is that Trump is now being squeezed on several sides — primarily by Bob Mueller, by the Southern District of New York’s Michael Cohen case, and now by this lawsuit. The New York Attorney General also recently filed suit against the Donald Trump Foundation, “accusing the charity and the Trump family of sweeping violations of campaign finance laws, self-dealing and illegal coordination with the presidential campaign.”
Hey Donald — there’s no where to run to and no where to hide. And you can’t get out of this with a bunch of counter-suits.
Update: New stuff happening —
Veteran senior Trump Organization official Allen Weisselberg has been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in the criminal probe of former Trump fixer Michael Cohen,Â the Wall Street Journal reportedÂ Thursday. …
…Weisselberg has worked at the Trump Organization since the 1970s, working his way up to become executive vice president and chief financial officer. He currently runs the business with Trumpâ€™s two adult sons. Weisselberg also served as the treasurer for the troubled Donald J. Trump Foundation, which was sued by the New York Attorney General for engaging in â€œrepeated and willful self-dealing transactions to benefit Mr. Trumpâ€™s personal and business interests.â€
The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is scrutinizing tweets and negative statements from the president about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey, according to three people briefed on the matter.
Several of the remarks came as Mr. Trump was also privately pressuring the men â€” both key witnesses in the inquiry â€” about the investigation, and Mr. Mueller is examining whether the actions add up to attempts to obstruct the investigation by both intimidating witnesses and pressuring senior law enforcement officials to tamp down the inquiry.