A federal district judge in Washington says a group of almost 200 Democratic senators and representatives has legal standing to sue President Donald Trump to prove he violated the U.S. Constitution's emoluments provision banning the acceptance of gifts from foreign interests.
The foreign emoluments clause prohibits payments from foreign governments, which it says can not be accepted "without the consent of Congress".
Trump's attorneys say the president does not need approval for any foreign patronage of his private businesses while the lawmakers say the emoluments clause applies to all foreign compensation, including for services rendered in a private capacity.
The judge's order, and a similar case in Maryland, could give Democrats a way get hold of President Trump's tax returns through pre-trial discovery.
Elizabeth Wydra, attorney for the Democratic lawmakers and president of the nonprofit Constitutional Accountability Center who argued the case in court, said that "by recognizing that members of Congress have standing to sue, the court proved to all in America today that no one is above the law, not even the president".
The ruling by Judge Emmet G. Sullivan is the second decision by a federal court advancing such constitutional lawsuits against the president.
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Legislation, as suggested by President Trump's lawyers, "flips this burden, placing the burden on Members of Congress to convince a majority of their colleagues to enact the suggested legislation". The finding means that the two lawsuits faced by the Trump Organization for improper receptions of payments from foreign governments can proceed.
Leading the case against Trump is Democratic Sen.
The president has not asked Congress to approve any transactions with foreign states.
To allow the lawsuit to proceed, Sullivan said he would "accept as true the allegations that the President has accepted prohibited foreign emoluments without seeking the consent of Congress".
The judge has not ruled yet, however, on the merits portion of the Department of Justice's motion to dismiss, such as whether the definition of "emolument" was broad enough to include a foreign embassy paying the president to rent a hotel ballroom. CNN's request for comment to the Justice Department, which is representing Trump, was not immediately returned.
The Department of Justice said the government "will continue to defend the president in court". A federal judge found that those attorneys general had standing because of the impact foreign business at Trump's Washington, DC, hotel was having on other businesses in their jurisdictions. The Trump Organization announced earlier this year that it donated more than $150,000 in what it described as profits from foreign government business at Trump's Washington, DC, hotel to the US Treasury.