A federal judge has denied the Justice Department’s efforts to halt legal proceedings in a case accusing President Donald Trump of violating the US Constitution – opening the door for Trump’s critics to soon gain access to financial records related to his Washington, DC, hotel.
Trump has been fighting multiple lawsuits that argue that foreign representatives’ spending money at the Trump International Hotel is a violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bans federal officials from accepting benefits from foreign or state governments without congressional approval.
In a bid to prevent the case moving on to legal discovery – which would potentially unearth financial records such as Trump’s income tax returns – Justice Department lawyers had asked Maryland-based US District Judge Peter J. Messitte to put the case on hold while they appeal his decision to a higher court in Richmond, Virginia.
That effort failed.
“This is another major win for us in this historic case,” said District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A Racine in a statement.
“Our next step is to proceed with discovery. We will soon provide the court a new schedule to begin the process of getting information about how President Trump is profiting from the presidency.”
Messitte wrote in a sometimes blistering 31-page opinion released on Friday that the president did not sufficiently meet the requirements for an appeal midway through the ongoing case.
“It is clear that the president, unhappy with the court’s reasoning and conclusion, merely reargues that his interpretation of the emoluments clauses should apply instead of the one the court gave,” he wrote.
“The court sees no point in stating again why it concluded as it did.”
But, Messitte said, merely disagreeing with the court doesn’t constitute a required “substantial” reason for such an appeal.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kelly Laco told The Associated Press that the department “disagrees with and is disappointed” by Messitte’s ruling. She added: “This case, which should have been dismissed, presents important questions that warrant immediate appellate review.”
Justice Department lawyers had objected to any discovery on a sitting president in his official capacity because of separation of powers concerns, in order to avoid a “constitutional confrontation” between two branches of government.
They argued that the “public interest is decidedly in favour of a stay because any discovery would necessarily be a distraction to the President’s performance of his constitutional duties.”