Federal Judge Seems Sympathetic To Anti-Corruption Case Against President Trump Lawyers for Maryland and the District of Columbia argued in court Thursday that President Trump is violating the Constitution's Emoluments Clause. They left the preliminary hearing feeling confident.
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Federal Judge Seems Sympathetic To Anti-Corruption Case Against President Trump

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Federal Judge Seems Sympathetic To Anti-Corruption Case Against President Trump

Federal Judge Seems Sympathetic To Anti-Corruption Case Against President Trump

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Critics of President Trump's business activity are trying again to stop it. The president continues to own his global business long after taking office.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

His critics say that creates massive conflicts of interest and violates two clauses in the Constitution. Last month, a judge in New York dismissed a lawsuit saying the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue.

INSKEEP: But yesterday, a similar lawsuit received a friendlier response from Judge Peter Messitte at a preliminary hearing in Maryland. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: The plaintiffs here are the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia. Their lawsuit alleges that Trump is violating the Constitution's Emoluments Clauses, which bar the president from personally profiting from his dealings with foreign governments or even U.S. state governments. Here's Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh after the hearing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRIAN FROSH: The fact is Trump is taking money from foreign governments. He's taking money from the United States that he's not entitled to. And he is also receiving payments from states all that violate his oath of office.

OVERBY: One major point of contention involves Trump's D.C. hotel. The plaintiffs say it's stealing business from other metro area venues because it's where big spenders can influence presidential decision making. The Justice Department is defending President Trump. DOJ lawyer Brett Shumate said the lawsuit amounts to an abstract political disagreement with the president and much speculation by the plaintiffs.

He said Maryland and D.C. were trying to infer competition between Trump's hotel and others around D.C. and he said the plaintiffs haven't suffered any harm that justifies a lawsuit. In legalese, they don't have standing to sue. Judge Messitte seemed to urge the plaintiffs to amend the suit in ways that might make it more likely to succeed. He finally told D.C. Attorney Loren AliKhan it's your call, not mine. Messitte said he would issue a ruling, quote, "as soon as I can."

That probably means about 60 days. Here's how D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine assessed the hearing later.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KARL RACINE: We came into this case confident about our standing, and we leave this courthouse even more confident.

OVERBY: The stakes are high. If D.C. and Maryland could get standing, they'd be able to seek discovery of financial records of Trump's Washington hotel and other properties as well. What they ultimately want is a court order telling the president to divest himself of his financial empire, the kind of court order no president has ever faced.

Shumate said divestiture wouldn't stop people from spending money at the Trump hotels, but the plaintiffs hope it would separate the president from the profits.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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