President Donald Trump’s legal team lost their bid to dismiss a case against the president for violating the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause through his business dealings.  

The plaintiffs, attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia, charged that the president had violated the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause by hosting a number of foreign ambassadors, and their events, at his Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. 

The clause prohibits any federal official, including the president, from accepting any payment or benefit from a state or foreign government. As the hotel’s owner, prosecutors argue, Trump personally profited off of foreign officials’ patronage on a number of occasions. They also claim certain foreign governments even supported the hotel “with the express intention to cater to the good graces of the President,” read court documents. The hotel previously rented out ballrooms to the embassies of Kuwait and the Philippines and hosted leaders from Malaysia and Romania. The plaintiff also noted that “the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia spent thousands of dollars at the Hotel” during Trump’s time in office. 



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The heart of the case rests on the definition of the term “emolument.” Trump’s team attempted to defend a narrow definition for the term — that it was a gift. For this reason, they argued, Trump was innocent as foreign officials were instead paying for the hotel as part of a transaction. On the flip side, the plaintiff argued the term must be defined in a modern context, such that it encompassed any profit or advantage, whether it be a free gift or lucrative transaction.


Federal Judge Peter Messitte ruled that the case could proceed as the plaintiff had “convincingly argued that the term ‘emolument’… means any ‘profit,’ ‘gain,’ or ‘advantage’ and that accordingly, they have stated claims to the effect that the President, in certain instances, has violated both the Foreign and Domestic Clauses.”

Trump’s team still has the option of appealing the decision.

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