AUGUSTA — A federal judge once again cited Gov. Paul LePage’s stays at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., while lobbying the White House last year as part of his decision allowing an “emoluments” case to proceed against President Trump.

The attorneys general in Washington, D.C., and Maryland claim Trump’s financial interest in the luxury hotel near the White House is a blatant violation of the Constitution’s prohibition on “emoluments” – profits or gains received directly or indirectly by the president from foreign, federal or state governments.

As evidence of the prohibition on “domestic emoluments,” the attorneys point to LePage’s stays at Trump International – first reported in the Portland Press Herald last year – as he was meeting with administration officials and urging the president to rescind the designation of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte in Maryland denied the Trump administration’s requests to dismiss the emoluments case. While Messitte has yet to rule on the facts of the case, the judge allowed the lawsuit to move forward based on evidence supporting allegations that Trump is reaping financial benefits from foreign and American government leaders through the hotel.

“In addition to foreign governments patronizing the hotel, plaintiffs claim that at least one state – Maine – has patronized the hotel, spending state funds for its governor and his entourage to stay at the hotel and to frequent its facilities during an official visit of those officials to Washington, including an encounter with the president where presidential action of interest to the governor took place,” Messitte wrote.

“Plaintiffs allege on information and belief other states may have done likewise,” Messitte continued. “These allegations plausibly state a claim under the Domestic Emoluments Clause.”

AT LEAST ONE STAY, MAYBE MORE

A Portland Press Herald analysis found that LePage and his state police security team stayed at Trump International at least once – but potentially more times – in spring 2017. During the trip in late April and early May of that year, LePage met with members of Congress as well as top Trump administration officials on a variety of policy issues ranging from Medicaid reform to Maine wild blueberries. He also testified before a congressional committee on Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, which was one of 27 national monuments that Trump ordered reviewed by the Department of the Interior at LePage’s request.

LePage’s office has yet to comply with repeated requests under the Maine Freedom of Access Act – some dating to March 2017 – for copies of receipts and other documents from his repeated trips to the nation’s capital. But a Press Herald analysis of redacted receipts provided by the Maine State Police show that LePage’s security team spent $2,250 on hotels, valet parking and meals at Trump International.

A major challenge facing the court in the Maryland-District of Columbia case against Trump is that the emoluments clause has never been truly litigated despite being written into the Constitution by the founding fathers more than 200 years ago. While most presidents have severed any potential business or financial ties upon entering the White House to avoid running afoul of the emoluments prohibition, Trump has maintained ownership of his massive, global business enterprise even if he has handed off management of the Trump Organization to his children.

According to The Washington Post, Messitte’s ruling on Wednesday “appeared to mark the first time a federal judge had interpreted those Constitutional provisions and applied their restrictions to a sitting president.” The newspaper said the ruling, if it stands, “could bring unprecedented scrutiny onto Trump’s businesses – which have sought to keep their transactions with foreign states private, even as their owner sits in the Oval Office.”

A Portland Press Herald analysis found that LePage and his state police security team stayed at Trump International at least once – but potentially more times – in spring 2017. During the trip in late April and early May of that year, LePage met with members of Congress as well as top Trump administration officials on a variety of policy issues ranging from Medicaid reform to Maine wild blueberries.

JUDGE PERMITS FURTHER DISCOVERY

With the case now moving forward, the Maryland and District of Columbia attorneys general could seek to probe the hotel’s finances and ledgers to determine who else stayed at the hotel, and, according to some observers, potentially even push for Trump’s elusive tax returns. In his ruling, Messitte wrote that the plaintiffs “have sufficiently identified the possibility of these additional potential violations” to permit them to conduct further “discovery” of the hotel’s patronage.

Much of the attention in the emoluments case has been on visits by foreign dignitaries or government officials to the Trump hotel, some of whom have rented large ballrooms and hosted lavish events in addition to renting hotel rooms. But the attorneys general from Maryland and Washington, D.C., are also pressing their case on the domestic emoluments prohibition. Their case has cited LePage’s stays at Trump International – as well as the Trump Organization’s lease from the federal government of the Old Post Office Building that houses the hotel – as proof of violations of the “domestic emoluments” clause.

In addition to violating the Constitution, the attorneys have argued, the politically motivated patronage at Trump International is harming other hotels, restaurants and businesses in the city and the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

Trump’s legal team, meanwhile, has argued that the definition of “emoluments” is much narrower. Trump’s attorneys say the founding fathers never intended to prevent the president from engaging in private business transactions, but only intended to ensure the president’s salary remains unaltered during his term. In addition, Trump’s team argued, the emoluments clause aims to prevent quid-pro-quo transactions in which the president benefits personally in exchange for granting a request from a state or foreign government.

But Messitte wrote that the Trump team’s narrow interpretation of the emoluments clause “cannot be the correct one” because it would “reduce the clauses to little more than a prohibition of bribery which, in addition to already being addressed elsewhere in the Constitution, is … a very difficult crime to prove.”

“Where, for example, a president maintains a premier hotel property that generates millions of dollars a year in profits, how likely is it that he will not be swayed, whether consciously or subconsciously, in any or all of his dealings with foreign or domestic governments that might choose to spend large sums of money at that hotel property?” Messitte wrote. “How, indeed, could it ever be proven, in a given case, that he had actually been influenced by the payments? The Framers of the (Constitution) clauses made it simple. Ban the offerings altogether (unless, in the foreign context at least, Congress sees fit to approve them).”

President Bill Clinton nominated Messitte as a U.S. District Judge in August 1993 and his appointment was confirmed by the Senate that fall.

LEPAGE CALLS JUDGE ‘AN IMBECILE’

Messitte mentioned LePage’s stays at Trump International four times in his 52-page opinion.

LePage’s communications office did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday, but has earlier said the governor chooses hotels based on a host of factors, including price, proximity to meetings and security.

The governor, meanwhile, had lashed out at Messitte following his March decision granting Maryland and the District of Columbia legal standing in the case.

“I didn’t realize I could buy the president so cheap, a night in his hotel and he’s in my back pocket,” LePage told WGME-TV back in March. “That’s all I’m gonna say. The judge that did that is an imbecile! He’s a complete imbecile.”

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, meanwhile, called Messitte’s ruling on Thursday allowing the case to move forward “an historic decision.”

“Judge Messitte held that the emoluments clauses of the United States Constitution are ‘broad anti-corruption provisions’ that can be enforced in court,” Frosh said in a statement. “No other president has ignored the prohibitions on receipt of payments and benefits from foreign governments or additional benefits from the United States or any individual state.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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