The Trump International Hotel in Washington.

The Trump International Hotel in Washington. Andriy Blokhin/

Trump Wins a Round in Legal Challenges to His Hotel Profits

District judge dismisses nonprofit and restaurants’ suit on Emoluments Clause.

A U.S. District judge on Thursday dismissed the lawsuit brought by a nonprofit transparency group backed by restaurateurs challenging President Trump’s ability to profit from his Washington luxury hotel.

The plaintiffs had cited the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause banning certain gifts from foreign governments as well as reduced profits by competing restaurants in filing the complaint.

But Judge George Daniels of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, appointed by President Clinton, ruled for the Trump Justice Department, saying that the plaintiffs lacked standing and left it to Congress to apply the foreign part of the Emoluments clause.

The nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington “failed to adequately plead a cognizable injury,” the judge wrote. He dismissed the restaurant owners’ accompanying claims that Trump’s prestige as president has unfairly cost them profits, saying it is “wholly speculative whether the hospitality plaintiffs' loss of business is fairly traceable to defendant's ‘incentives’ or instead results from government officials’ independent desire to patronize defendant’s businesses.”

Siding with Trump, the judge wrote, “It is only natural that interest in his properties has generally increased since he became president.”

The judge also said the potential clash between Congress and the Executive Branch over the meaning of the Emoluments Clause “has yet to mature,” writing, “If Congress wishes to confront defendant over a perceived violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause, it can take action.”

CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder released a statement saying his group is mulling an appeal. “The Constitution’s emoluments clauses are core protections against destabilizing foreign and domestic corruption,” he said. “While today’s ruling is a setback, we will not walk away from this serious and ongoing constitutional violation.”

The Justice Department had argued that “CREW’s allegations of injury amount to little more than CREW’s own value judgment about what issues warranted its advocacy.”

A separate suit challenging Trump’s hotel profits, brought by attorneys general in Maryland and the District of Columbia, continues, with new briefs having been filed in November.