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Despite reversal, Trump’s Doral promotion will now be used against him in court

Congressional Democrats filed a legal brief in federal court on Tuesday asserting that President Trump’s promotion of his Doral resort for the G-7 summit was further evidence he has violated the Emoluments Clause, despite his decision to reverse course.

The initial announcement last week — from Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, as he stood behind the official White House podium — provided the president’s personal property with “invaluable publicity” that in and of itself may amount to an emolument, a House Democratic source said.

Democratic lawmakers and their aides debated how to proceed over the weekend, after the president tweeted that he had reversed the decision and would not hold the G-7 summit at his Florida resort, only three days after Mulvaney’s announcement.

The office of Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, confirmed to McClatchy that the brief had been filed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Tuesday, explicitly citing the selection of Trump National Doral Miami as evidence that Trump is profiting off the presidency. Blumenthal is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against Trump by 30 Democratic senators and 166 House members in 2017.

“The president may have decided, for now, not to go ahead with his plan to hold the G-7 summit at his Doral resort, but the fact that he even thought about it underscores once again that he has zero regard for the Foreign Emoluments Clause,” Blumenthal said in a statement to McClatchy. “That’s why my lawsuit to hold the president accountable to the Constitution is so important.”

The lawsuit, Blumenthal v. Trump, has survived Trump’s efforts to have the case dismissed on the grounds that members of Congress do not have standing to sue. In the spring, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that the lawmakers, in fact, do have standing.

“As we note there, the president’s attempt to award the G-7 summit to his Doral resort shows how increasingly brazen he’s becoming,” Blumenthal said..

Trump dismissed questions over the constitutionality of the Doral selection on Monday when pressed by reporters. “You people with this phony Emoluments Clause,” Trump said.

The Emoluments Clause refers to a provision of the U.S. Constitution that prohibits politicians from accepting “present, emolument, office or title of any kind” from foreign states while in office.

“I would say that it’s cost me anywhere from $2 to $5 billion to be president, and that’s OK. Between what I lose and what I could have made, I would have made a fortune, I would have just ran my business. I was doing it very well. I have a great business and the best properties,” Trump added.

Some of Trump’s most staunch Republican defenders on Capitol Hill — from Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina to Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — also brushed off questions last week about whether the selection of Doral was problematic, from a legal perspective or simply as a matter of optics.

Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said it was a concern.

“The point is that every time there is a story about the president at a Trump property or about a Trump property — that is free advertising for the business,” Zelizer said. “Selling hotel rooms for the G-7 is one goal, but more important is the endless cycle of stories about the resort that have aired since the scandal broke.”

This story has been updated to reflect the legal brief has been filed in federal court.

Michael Wilner joined McClatchy as its White House correspondent in 2019. He previously served as Washington bureau chief for The Jerusalem Post, where he led coverage of the Iran nuclear talks, the Syrian refugee crisis and the 2016 US presidential campaign. Wilner holds degrees from Claremont McKenna College and Columbia University and is a native of New York City.
Emma Dumain covers Congress and congressional leadership for McClatchy DC and the company’s newspapers around the country. She previously covered South Carolina politics out of McClatchy’s Washington bureau. From 2008-2015, Dumain was a congressional reporter for CQ Roll Call.
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