President Donald Trump’s hotel company did not break the law by doing business with other countries, a Justice Department lawyer told a federal judge Monday.
The state of Maryland and the District Columbia have accused Trump of capitalizing on the presidency and causing harm to local businesses that compete with his Washington hotel.
Monday’s arguments before U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte delve into the substance of the Constitution’s “emoluments clause” and what it means. The clause bans federal officials from accepting benefits from foreign or state governments without congressional approval.
Last March, Messitte ruled that the plaintiffs can proceed with their lawsuit against Trump’s Washington hotel. But he rejected their effort to target Trump Organization properties outside of the immediate area.
Trump administration lawyers say such business activity, including hotel room stays, isn’t an emolument. Justice Department lawyer Brett Shumate on Monday told Messitte that no federal official would be able to own stock from a foreign company that provides profits or collects royalties if the argument pressed by Maryland and D.C. is accepted.
But attorneys general for Maryland and DC have rejected the government’s stance.
“This case is about the president of the United States making an affirmative decision to use the government to enrich himself,” D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine told The Associated Press last week.
The case in Messitte’s court is one of three emoluments lawsuits against Trump. Last week, a federal judge in the District heard arguments in a lawsuit pressed by more than 200 Democratic lawmakers. A third case was rejected by a federal judge in New York and is now on appeal.