Washington – A federal court on Tuesday gave Sen. Richard Blumenthal a victory in his lawsuit alleging that President Donald Trump’s businesses violate the Constitution’s ban on gifts or payments from foreign governments.
Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled against the president’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which was brought by Blumenthal and joined by 200 members of the Senate and House of Representatives.
Blumenthal v. Trump is based on the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bars a president from taking payments from foreign states unless he receives approval from Congress.
The lawsuit accuses Trump of violating the clause because his businesses, including his hotel in downtown Washington D.C., have hosted foreign embassy events and visiting foreign officials.
Allowing the lawsuit to move forward opens the door for Democratic lawmakers to seek financial information from the Trump organization, including copies of the organization’s tax returns.
“This decision is a tremendous victory and vindication of a common sense reading of the Constitution,” Blumenthal said in a statement Tuesday night. “In an extraordinarily well-reasoned opinion, the court soundly rejected the president’s absurd argument that he is above the law.”
In September, Sullivan ruled that Blumenthal and his congressional colleagues had standing to sue Trump.
But the judge did not rule at that time on the White House motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
The president’s lawyers argued that the benefits Trump has received are not emoluments and that the prohibition only pertained to payments the president might receive for action taken in his official capacity.
In his order filed late Tuesday, however, Sullivan said Blumenthal and the other plaintiffs have a claim against the president for violating the Foreign Emoluments Clause. The judge also rejected Trump’s narrow definition of emoluments, finding it “unpersuasive and inconsistent.”
“The Court is persuaded that the text and structure of the Clause, together with the other uses of the term in the Constitution, support plaintiffs’ definition of ‘Emolument’ rather than that of the president,” Sullivan wrote.
Besides receiving payments from foreign governments whose diplomats and officials stay at Trump hotels, Sullivan wrote the president has received licensing fees paid by foreign governments for his show “The Apprentice,” and intellectual property rights from China.
Blumenthal said “the next step should be discovery and full disclosure of all the documents and evidence relevant to our emoluments claims.”
However, the Justice Department can try to delay or block the process by asking an appeals court to intervene.