U.S. judge raises doubts over suit against Trump on foreign payments
(New throughout, adds details from hearing, background on case)
By Andrew Chung
NEW YORK, Oct 18 (Reuters) - A federal judge in New York
voiced skepticism on Wednesday over whether groups and
individuals should be able to proceed with a lawsuit against
President Donald Trump alleging that he violated the U.S.
Constitution by accepting foreign payments through his hotels
and other businesses.
U.S. District Judge George Daniels also questioned
government lawyers seeking to have him throw out the suit
accusing Trump of running afoul of the Constitution's
"emoluments" clause by maintaining ownership of his business
empire while in office.
Daniels said he would rule within a month or two on whether
he will continue to hear the suit. The emoluments clause,
designed to prevent corruption and foreign influence, bars U.S.
officials from accepting gifts from foreign governments without
Trump has ceded day-to-day control of his businesses to his
sons. Critics have said that is not a sufficient safeguard.
During a hearing on the bid to dismiss the case, Daniels
suggested the U.S. Congress might be better suited than the
courts to resolve the dispute.
"They can make this an issue, but they have not done so,"
Daniels said. "Why is it appropriate for the judiciary to have
the president fight this out in a street brawl?"
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in January after Trump
took office, are the nonprofit watchdog group Citizens for
Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a hotel owner, a hotel
events booker and a restaurant trade group.
Daniels, appointed to the bench by Democratic former
president Bill Clinton, acknowledged that the case was
navigating "uncharted waters."
If he allows the case to go ahead, a lawyer for the
plaintiffs, Joseph Sellers, said they intend to seek further
evidence of Trump's alleged violations of the emoluments clause.
In court papers, they said the "full extent of his violations"
are not yet known because he has not released his tax returns.
But Daniels raised doubts about whether the plaintiffs are
legally entitled to sue. Federal courts usually require
plaintiffs to demonstrate they have actually been harmed.
The plaintiffs allege they are injured when foreign
governments try to "curry favor" with Trump by favoring his
businesses, such as the Trump International Hotel in Washington,
or a high-end restaurant at a Trump hotel in New York City,
leading to lost patronage, wages and commissions.
The emoluments clause was not meant to provide a right to
protect individuals from competition, Daniels told another
plaintiffs' lawyer, Deepak Gupta.
Gupta urged the judge to reject "the government's view that
the president is above the law."
In June, the Trump administration asked the court to throw
out the case, saying the constitution prohibits gifts and
emoluments given to U.S. officials acting in their official
capacities only and does not constrain the president's
Daniels did not buy that argument. If a foreign government
expects favorable action, it might also "buy a million dollars
worth of your hot dogs," he told Brett Shumate, a lawyer for the
U.S. Department of Justice.
"Just because it's a business transaction doesn't
necessarily mean it's not an emolument," Daniels said.
Shumate replied, "The president is engaging in ordinary
business transactions, not in exchange for anything."
(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham and David
First Published: 2017-10-18 19:52:59
Updated 2017-10-18 22:03:45
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