NEW YORK–A U.S. federal appeals court on Friday revived a lawsuit alleging President Donald Trump violated the U.S. Constitution by profiting from foreign and domestic officials who patronized his hotels and restaurants, moving a watchdog group closer to obtaining financial records from his real estate company.
In a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel of the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals set aside a lower court ruling that had thrown out the case because the people who sued could not prove they were harmed by Trump‘s actions and his role as president. Friday‘s ruling dealt with preliminary questions relating to whether the case should be heard, without directly addressing whether Trump violated the law. The lawsuit, initially filed by plaintiffs including the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, accused the Republican president of failing to disentangle himself from his hotels and other businesses, making him vulnerable to inducements by officials seeking to curry favour. The case alleged violations of the U.S. Constitution’s anti-corruption “emoluments” provisions, which ban the president from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments without congressional consent. Deepak Gupta, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the ruling puts them on track to subpoena financial records from Trump‘s business through the so-called “discovery” process. The Justice Department, which is defending Trump in the case, could appeal the decision. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment. “If President Trump would like to avoid the case going further and curtail the serious harms caused by his unconstitutional conduct, now would be a good time to divest from his businesses and end his violations of the Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution,” said CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder in a statement. Trump, a wealthy real estate developer who as president regularly visits his own hotels, resorts and golf clubs, maintains ownership of his businesses but has ceded day-to-day control to his sons. Critics have said that is not a sufficient safeguard.