The Trump administration on Monday asked a federal appeals court to freeze an ongoing anti-corruption lawsuit against President Donald Trump, as part of a bid to stop a pair of state attorneys general from being able to peruse Trump’s business records.
The Justice Department asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to pause proceedings in the case while it challenges a series of rulings by a federal trial court judge in Maryland. Monday’s filing said U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte’s earlier order rejecting a request to dismiss the complaint was “clear legal error” and called his refusal to certify an immediate appeal “a manifest abuse of discretion.”
The DOJ wants the appeals court to review those rulings, writing the lower court should have allowed an appeal because the case involves “purely legal threshold questions that, if resolved in the President’s favor, would obviate (or at least significantly narrow) intrusive discovery into the President’s personal financial affairs and the official actions of his Administration.”
Monday’s request follows a flurry of subpoenas issued earlier this month by the offices of D.C. and Maryland Attorneys General Karl Racine and Brian Frosh, who sued Trump in June 2017 accusing him of violating the Constitution’s foreign and domestic anti-corruption clauses. They claim Trump has reaped profits from foreign and domestic officials patronizing his Pennsylvania Avenue hotel, behavior they say the Constitution’s emoluments clauses broadly prohibit.
“President Trump is going to extraordinary lengths to try to stop us from gathering information about how he is illegally profiting from the presidency,” Racine said in a statement, adding, “Unless the 4th Circuit rules otherwise, we will continue to work hard to gather the evidence needed to put a stop to the President’s ongoing violations of the Constitution’s original anti-corruption law.”
The more than three dozen subpoenas target groups such as the Trump Organization and related entities. The states are demanding tax returns and business records that could shed light on foreign or domestic government officials who are patronizing the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. The state AGs began issuing the subpoenas after Messitte approved a timetable for discovery, with recipients required to respond by Jan. 3.
The subpoenas were also sent out to other groups, such as unnamed competing business and a handful of federal agencies. The subpoenas target, for example, the General Services Administration, which owns the lease for the old post office building where Trump built his hotel. They also target the Treasury Department, seeking information about whether Trump has followed through with an earlier vow to give profits he’s made from foreign officials’ visits to his hotel to the U.S. Treasury.
Messitte has allowed the lawsuit to progress, rejecting efforts by the Justice Department to have the case dismissed or immediately appealed. Earlier this year, the judge found the states had standing to sue, though he limited their lawsuit to Trump’s Washington, D.C., businesses—namely the Trump International Hotel. Messitte also rejected in July the government’s narrow reading of the term “emoluments.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s personal attorneys at Consovoy McCarthy Park have also asked Messitte to dismiss the states’ lawsuit on the grounds that Trump can’t be sued in his individual capacity. They asked Messitte this month to schedule a hearing on the matter, noting Maryland and D.C. agreed “no discovery will be served against the President in his individual capacity unless and until the motion to dismiss is denied.”
Trump also faces two other emoluments-related lawsuits. One suit in Washington, D.C., which was brought by around 200 Democratic members of Congress and alleges a violation of the foreign emoluments clause, cleared an initial hurdle on the question of standing in September.
Another lawsuit was filed in New York by the nonprofit group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which is working with the attorneys general in the Maryland case. A federal judge dismissed their suit last year, a ruling CREW appealed to the Second Circuit.
Read the appeal: