President Donald Trump was surely relieved last month to have defeated the first lawsuit challenging his receipt of business profits while in office. U.S. District Court Judge George Daniels ruled that the plaintiffs “failed to show injury” directly related to the use of the president’s properties by foreign dignitaries and governments. Judge Daniels also opined that the courts aren’t equipped to handle such an issue — that Congress should handle it.
But, today, U.S. District Court Judge Peter Messitte made it clear that he wasn’t persuaded by multiple aspects of Daniels’s ruling. Of the prior ruling, Judge Messitte said that he thought Daniels was too quick to dismiss arguments that Trump’s competitors have legal standing to challenge the profits he’s making from his hotels, properties, and other business ventures. The Maryland Judge also implied that Judge Daniels had not shown his work, so to speak. Per POLITICO:
“He just said that in a sentence. There was no analysis at all,” Messitte said after Justice Department attorney Brett Shumate invoked Daniels’ opinion. “There’s very little analysis in his declarations. … I’m not really bound by even the logic at this point, with all respect to Judge Daniels.”
Maryland Solicitor General Steven Sullivan argued, “Our hospitality sectors cannot offer clients the the same opportunities to influence the president.”
And this, of course, is exactly why the clause was put in place. Likewise, this is why presidents divest their financial holdings and place assets into a blind trust. Trump didn’t do this, so his private wealth is indeed being impacted by his presidency. That is a kind of a huge deal. Perhaps not for an unapologetic plutocrat — but for a sitting American president — it’s unprecedented and borders on the surreal.
Per POLITICO, “Judge Messitte also raised the fact that D.C. recently reduced the tax assessment on the Trump hotel. Shumate noted that a D.C. official was quoted as saying the decision was made on the merits, but the judge suggested D.C. lawyers are still free to argue the decision was improper or was made under pressure related to Trump being president.”
Most of us were wondering if we were just going to spend 3 more years knowing that Trump is using his presidency to increase his profit margins, and not just by tinkering with the tax code in a way that so heavily favors himself. But Judge Peter Messitte just opened up the possibility that perhaps Donald Trump does actually have to follow some of the rules… or face actual consequences.