A federal judge issued a surprising decision that allowed part of an emoluments challenge to proceed toward trial. The opinion has been widely misreported, but still represents a rare win for those arguing that President Donald Trump is accepting prohibited payments from foreign governments at the various Trump properties. However, the decision is only on the threshold standing question and did not address the merits of the constitutional claim. Moreover, United States District Judge Peter Messitte dramatically narrowed the action to only claims related to the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. These is considerable debate over the meaning of the Constitution’s “emoluments” clause. There are clearly good-faith arguments that such payments fall within the meaning of the language, but I remain highly skeptical. Even with the much reduced action, I think Messitte is wrong and that the action should have been dismissed in its entirety. Previous actions have been dismissed.
The plaintiffs argued that Trump is accepting emoluments in receiving revenue from his various businesses. No president has held the range of assets that Trump brought to office after his election. Thus, there were valid questions raised about the scope of emoluments. I simply find these claims too attenuated. Moreover, none of these Democratic leaders and Trump critics called for such challenges to the Clintons racking in hundreds of millions in person speaking fees or contributions to their foundation. The clause is not limited to Presidents:
Messitte’s decision on standing may be easier to support than any finding of an emolument, but I would still bet against the sustainability of these claims.