WASHINGTON – A federal judge appeared to sympathize with the nearly 200 congressional Democrats suing President Donald Trump for violating the Constitution by accepting foreign state favors without first presenting them to Congress and gaining their consent.
U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan spiritedly grilled attorneys on both sides for more than two hours Thursday as Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas sat listening to the arguments in the Washington, D.C., courtroom.
While there are three such cases arguing the president is violating the Constitutional emoluments clause, Thursday's case differs in that the plaintiffs in the suit — members of Congress — are mentioned in the clause itself, and they believe that Congress not only has a right but is required, as part of its job, to weigh in on potential foreign government favors.
"It's frustrating to hear frustration," Sullivan said in court Thursday. "They can't do the job the voters sent them to Capitol Hill to do."
Thursday's hearing dealt solely with the question of whether the congressional Democrats have standing or have experienced harm.
Sullivan appeared well versed in the minutiae of the case and pushed back on both sides' arguments. He said that his initial reaction is that a jury probably wouldn't be required should the case move forward, and that it might be dealt with quickly.
A decision on whether the government wins its motion to dismiss or if the case will be allowed to proceed could come at any time. Plaintiffs are asking the judge to ultimately order Trump to stop accepting foreign state favors and to present them to Congress for their approval.
In a news conference after the hearing, Blumenthal said he was "tremendously encouraged" by the judge's questioning and "very hopeful."
"Each of us has suffered the injury that this provision was meant to prevent," Blumenthal said. "We have been denied the right to vote and the responsibility to consent to the president of the United States taking, repeatedly, gifts, benefits and payments from foreign governments."
The case cites as foreign government favors Chinese government trademarks for Trump companies, payments for hotel room stays and event space rentals by representatives of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and proceeds from Chinese or Emirati-linked government purchases of office space in Trump Tower.