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Trump loses another round in emoluments court battle

November 2, 2018 GMT

President Trump suffered another setback Friday in his bid to avoid a constitutional rebuke when a federal judge refused to halt a case challenging his ownership of the Trump International hotel in D.C.

Judge Peter J. Messitte rejected the president’s arguments that the Emolument Clauses lawsuit would be a distraction, saying Mr. Trump has been eager to get involved in legal tussles, so he should not be wary of being a defendant.

“It bears noting that the President himself appears to have had little reluctance to pursue personal litigation despite the supposed distractions it imposes upon his office,” the Clinton appointee, who is the chief judge of the federal district court in Maryland, wrote.

Judge Messitte had previously ruled that Maryland and D.C. had standing to sue, and that Mr. Trump appeared to be enriching himself by continued ownership of the hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, just blocks from the White House.

The president had asked the judge to put the case on ice while he appealed those rulings, staying legal discovery that could result in the president having to answer a number of tricky questions about his business empire.

But the judge, in his ruling Friday, rejected that.

“Today’s court ruling denies President Trump’s efforts to block our lawsuit,” said Karl A. Racine, D.C.’s attorney general. “This is another major win for us in this historic case. Our next step is to proceed with discovery.”

The case is one of several challenges to Mr. Trump’s continued stake in the Trump Organization. While he turned over day-to-day operations to his sons, he remains owner.

The lawsuits say that in accepting profits from his hotels, he’s deriving an income in violation of the foreign and domestic Emoluments clauses.

The domestic emolument prohibition prevents the president from getting anything of value from the government other than his official compensation. Since the Trump hotel property is a lease, his opponents say, he’s profiting beyond his salary.

The foreign emolument prohibition covers anything of value from a foreign government. The plaintiffs say that foreign officials who rent rooms or otherwise patronize the hotel are enriching the president in violation of that prohibition.