© 2023 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

1 Emoluments Clause Lawsuit Is Dismissed, Trump Faces Others In 2018


Tomorrow marks one year since Donald Trump was sworn in as president. Just three days later, the president was sued for allegedly violating two anti-corruption clauses in the Constitution. NPR's Peter Overby has this update.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Now there are three lawsuits, and one of them gets a hearing next week in federal district court. Like the other two suits, it alleges that people seeking to influence the Trump administration are pumping money into Trump's hotels and golf courses.

KARL RACINE: That could result in the president caring more about where his bread is being buttered than about the policy implications for the country.

OVERBY: Karl Racine is attorney general of the District of Columbia. In the Constitution, these enticements to sway a public official are called emoluments. The District of Columbia and Maryland are suing Trump under the clause against taking foreign emoluments...

RACINE: The country's first anti-corruption law...

OVERBY: ...And the clause against domestic emoluments.

RACINE: ...That makes sure that states don't have to compete for the favor of the president by providing the president with things of value.

OVERBY: The plaintiffs say Trump's luxury hotel near the White House unfairly takes business away from other venues in Washington and nearby Maryland. Trump officially opened the hotel just 13 days before he was elected president.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have the finest location, and we have the finest building.

OVERBY: The place quickly became a magnet for lobbyists, foreign diplomats and others. In fact, all of the lawsuits focus on that hotel.


SHERRI DILLON: These people are wrong. This is not what the Constitution says.

OVERBY: Trump lawyer Sherri Dillon at a press conference a year ago before Trump took office.


DILLON: Paying for a hotel room is not a gift or a present. And it has nothing to do with an office. It's not an emolument.

OVERBY: Now the Justice Department uses that line of defense. It's new territory, legally speaking.

SETH BARRETT TILLMAN: This has never been adjudicated in any court of record in the United States in our history.

OVERBY: Constitutional law scholar Seth Barrett Tillman said the plaintiffs are all misinterpreting the Constitution. He was speaking via Skype.

TILLMAN: You and I both know the Foreign Emoluments Clause has never been used for a purpose like this. This is politics by other means.

OVERBY: In October, a federal judge in Manhattan held the first ever court hearing on a presidential emoluments case. It was on the first lawsuit, the one filed just as Trump was settling into the Oval Office. The plaintiffs are from the hospitality industry, plus the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW. The judge dismissed their case just before the holidays. He said they don't have legal grounds to sue. But CREW chief Noah Bookbinder said they're working on an appeal.

NOAH BOOKBINDER: So I don't consider that a done deal in any sense.

OVERBY: In the most recent lawsuit, some 200 congressional Democrats say that Trump has violated the Foreign Emoluments Clause by failing to ask Congress for consent. Elizabeth Wydra is president of the Constitutional Accountability Center representing the lawmakers.

ELIZABETH WYDRA: Congress can't approve what it doesn't know, and this president has been notoriously secret about his financial dealings.

OVERBY: There's no court date yet, but a year from now, the legal landscape could look much different. The three lawsuits will have progressed or run aground, and it's possible they could be less significant. If Democrats win control of the House or Senate, they'll have the power to investigate Trump's potential conflicts of interest.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOEY PECARARO'S "CURL UP INTO A BALL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.