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Now an update on a lawsuit against The Trump Organization and President Donald Trump. A federal judge has rejected an attempt to dismiss a lawsuit that says the president is violating the constitution. NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Just days before the election in 2016, candidate Donald Trump staged a grand opening of his Trump International Hotel near the White House.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: With the notable exception of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, this is the most coveted piece of real estate in Washington, D.C. - the best location.
OVERBY: The hotel became a magnet for foreign governments to spend money. And today, federal District Judge Peter Messitte in Maryland gave the go ahead to an anti-corruption lawsuit involving the president and his hotel. The attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia alleged that the foreign government spending at Trump International violates the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. The attorneys general say Trump's own connection to the hotel violates the Constitution's domestic Emoluments Clause partly because the hotel building belongs to the federal government.
All along, the question has been, what's an emolument? That's what Judge Messitte dealt with today. He rejected what he called a cramped interpretation by Justice Department lawyers. They'd argued that an emolument had to involve a presidential action and a gift - the same as a bribe.
Messitte adopted a much broader definition advanced in a friend of the court brief. It said that when the Constitution was written, emolument generally meant a profit, gain or advantage. Remarkably, the emoluments clauses had never been hashed out in federal court - not until the Trump administration. John Mikhail, a professor at Georgetown Law, did the research cited in the judge's opinion.
JOHN MIKHAIL: I think it comes as a surprise to many people that there are terms in the Constitution, individual words that have, you know, at this late date, 230-plus years into the operation of the Constitution, that they - that those have never been authoritatively adjudicated.
OVERBY: For the Maryland and D.C. attorneys general, the next step is discovery, a chance to get documents and take depositions from Trump's organization. Justice Department spokesman Andy Reuss said they still maintain the case should be dismissed but are determining next steps. There are two other emoluments cases against Trump. Plaintiffs are appealing one of them in federal court in New York. The other is pending in federal court in D.C. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
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