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Emoluments Lawsuit Moves A Step Closer To Trump

The attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia want the legal authority to get any communications between President Trump and officials of foreign or U.S. state governments pertaining to his Trump International Hotel near the White House.

The proposal is one of several for "document discovery" in the historic civil suit against the president. As plaintiffs, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh can seek documents to bolster their complaints. They made their proposals Friday in a filing in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md.

The suit alleges that Trump has violated two anti-corruption provisions of the Constitution: the Foreign Emoluments Clause, which bars federal officials from accepting gifts or rewards from foreign government officials, and the Domestic Emoluments Clause, which prohibits the president from accepting benefits from state governments.

U.S. District Court Judge Peter Messitte ruled in July that the attorneys general had legal standing to sue. This is the first emoluments case in American history to go to trial.

The attorneys general also want to obtain:

  • records covering the hotel's business with foreign government officials;
  • records of cash going from the hotel to the Trump revokable trust that holds the hotel, and then to Trump;
  • documents from the federal General Services Administration, which leases the hotel building to the Trump hotel corporation, and from the U.S. Treasury, which handles the lease payments.
  • The attorneys general are suing Trump as president and as an individual. The trial is framed, so far, as involving Trump in his official role. The Justice Department, defending Trump, is appealing that ruling. Messitte hasn't yet decided whether the case will include Trump as an individual.

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    Corrected: September 16, 2018 at 9:00 PM PDT
    A previous version of this story incorrectly said the Justice Department wants to delay document discovery until Judge Messitte rules on whether the attorneys general can sue President Trump as an individual. In fact, DOJ said discovery should be delayed during its appeal of Messitte's ruling to allow the suit against Trump as president. Previously posted on Sept. 16: This story previously identified the attorney general of Maryland as Peter Frosh. In fact, the attorney general's name is Brian Frosh.
    Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.