A federal judge, on Tuesday, allowed a case brought by two attorney generals alleging Donald Trump is violating of the Constitution’s anti-corruption emoluments clauses to proceed by allowing them to serve the Trump Organization preservation subpoenas. The order by U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte means that twenty-three Trump businesses, including Mar-a-Lago, are compelled by law to preserve documents requested by the Maryland and D.C. attorneys general. The Trump Organization, now run by the president’s two sons Don Jr. and Eric, does not yet have to turn over their records however and may never have to if the case is dismissed, as lawyers for Trump have asked the court.
The suit filed in June by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine alleges that President Trump is in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clauses, which prohibit the president from taking money or anything of value from foreign governments, as well as domestic state governments. This sort of moneymaking enterprise could range from state political parties holding fundraisers at Mar-a-Lago or foreign diplomats staying at Trump hotels or even buying apartments or leasing space in Trump-owned buildings.
“If a federal judge allows the case to proceed, Racine and Frosh say, one of the first steps will be to demand through the discovery process copies of Trump’s personal tax returns to gauge the extent of his foreign business dealings,” the Washington Post reported in June when the suit was first filed. The suit argues that the political pull of Trump properties for people and organizations wishing to curry favor with the president harms both jurisdictions by potentially driving business dollars away from other local venues, some taxpayer funded, and into the Trump family coffers, giving Maryland and D.C. standing to take the Trump Organization to court.
“Justice Department attorneys asked Messitte to dismiss the case in September and in a filing last month, agency attorneys argued that no evidence should be sought ‘through subpoenas or other mechanisms’ in the meantime,” according to the Post. “The Trump Organization, now run by Trump’s adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, has said it plans to donate profits from foreign governments booked at the president’s D.C. hotel at year’s end.” The Trumps say a lot of things however. How will anyone ever know if they donate anything at all? Even if the Trump Organization does donate every single dollar in profit from foreign governments, which could total in the tens of millions of dollars, it still wouldn’t change the fundamental ethical and constitutional problem with Trump’s comingling of politics and profit.
Oral arguments in the case are set for Jan. 25. We’ll see if it gets that far.