Court revives lawsuit alleging Trump improperly profited off his presidency

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, adding to the corruption claims against Trump.

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 (CREW), 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.

“We will proudly fight as long as needed to ensure Americans are represented by an ethical government under the rule of law,” CREW said in a social media post.

The U.S. Constitution bars government officials, including the president, from receiving financial benefits known as emoluments from foreign or domestic governments, without approval from Congress.

The Justice Department, which is defending Trump in the case, could appeal the decision. A spokesperson for the department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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.

Friday’s ruling comes in a lawsuit filed days after Trump took office in January 2017. The plaintiffs included a New York hotel owner, an events booker in Washington, and a restaurant trade group that allege lost patronage, wages and commissions from clients who now prefer Trump’s businesses over theirs because of the ability to gain the president’s favour.

The plaintiffs cite examples of foreign government entities, including the Embassy of Kuwait and a delegation from Malaysia, choosing Trump’s properties, such as the Trump International Hotel in Washington, over other venues.

The Justice Department had urged the appeals court to bury what it called a “manufactured lawsuit” because the plaintiffs cannot show that the harms they incurred can be traced to Trump’s financial interest in his businesses rather than other reasons.

Trump also faces a similar case brought by a group of more than 200 Democratic Party lawmakers.

A third emoluments case, brought by the Democratic attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia, was tossed by an appeals court in July.

Separate questions about foreign properties

Separately, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are looking into Vice-President Mike Pence’s stay last week at the Trump International Golf Club in Doonbeg on the west coast of Ireland, which is about 300 kilometres from Dublin, where he attended meetings with Irish and European officials.

House Democrat Elijah Cummings from Maryland also this week raised concerns about reports that Scotland’s Prestwick Airport offered cut-rate rooms for select passengers and crew, as well as free rounds of golf at Trump-owned Turnberry to visiting U.S. military and civilian air crews.

In a statement, the Air Force said it would review all guidance related to the selection of airports and lodging accommodations during international travel.

Trump earlier this week said on Twitter he had “nothing to do” with Pence’s choice of accommodation and also claimed not to have any knowledge regarding the Scotland allegations.

Trump, after the Group of Seven leaders met in France earlier in this month, floated the idea of hosting next year’s G7 economic summit at his Florida resort.