Justice Department lawyers' latest bid to get an emoluments suit against the president tossed has been unsuccessful. US District Judge Peter Messitte on Wednesday denied the motion, which the Washington Post describes as apparently "the first time a federal judge had interpreted [the Constitution's emoluments clauses] and applied their restrictions to a sitting president." The suit, filed in 2017 by the Democratic attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia, says the document's emoluments clause forbids federal officials from accepting gifts from foreign governments without the consent of Congress. The lawsuit says Trump is doing exactly that by reaping profits from the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, even while doing government business with other nations.
In his ruling, Messitte wrote that the allegations were plausible and that the ban could apply to any business dealings with foreign governments that resulted in a "profit, gain, or advantage" for Trump. CNN notes that the plaintiffs had been pushing to define emolument as an "advantage," while Trump's lawyers were looking to limit it to the definition of "gift." The Justice Department's argument is that the original intention of the clause was to prevent bribe-taking, not legitimate business endeavors. The AP reports the decision will enable the plaintiffs to request the hotel's financial records, with the Post adding it's possible they could try to get access to Trump's tax returns. The Justice Department has not said whether it will appeal. Trump faces two other active emoluments-related lawsuits. (Read more Emoluments Clause stories.)