By Tami Abdollah
WASHINGTON (AP) — The attorneys general of the District of Columbia and Maryland plan to file subpoenas Tuesday seeking records from the Trump Organization, the Treasury Department and dozens of other entities as part of a lawsuit accusing Donald Trump of profiting off the presidency.
The flurry of subpoenas came a day after U.S. District Court Judge Peter J. Messitte approved a brisk schedule for discovery in the case alleging that foreign and domestic government spending at Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel amounts to gifts to the president in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause.
The subpoenas target 37 entities, including 13 Trump-linked entities and the federal agency that oversees the lease for Trump’s Washington hotel. Subpoenas were also being sent to the Department of Defense, General Services Administration, Department of Commerce and Department of Agriculture, all of which have spent taxpayer dollars at the hotel or have information on Trump’s finances relevant to the case.
Other Trump entities that officials plan to subpoena include those related to his Washington hotel and its management. Eighteen private entities including restaurants, venues and hotels that compete with the Trump hotel are also being subpoenaed to “illuminate the unfair nature of that competition,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh.
“We’re seeking to confirm the information that everybody already knows: Trump’s violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution,” Frosh said. “He’s received numerous payments from foreign governments and state governments and they’ve been funneled, at least in part, through the Trump (hotel) in D.C.”
While news organizations have reported how groups representing Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and the Philippines have hosted events at Trump’s D.C. hotel since he took office, the subpoenas offer the best chance to get a complete picture of which foreign and domestic governments are spending at the hotel, how much they are spending and where that money is going. They’re also trying to determine how Trump’s hotel is affecting the hospitality industry in D.C. and Maryland.
The subpoenas seek to prove that hotel revenues are going to the president through his affiliated entities, including The Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust. Most of the records are being requested back to Jan. 1, 2015.
The Justice Department declined to comment. Neither Trump’s personal attorney on the case, William S. Consovoy, nor the White House responded to a request for comment Tuesday.
Trump’s Justice Department lawyers filed a notice to the court Friday indicating it plans to challenge the Maryland judge’s decision to allow the case to move forward. Justice lawyers have argued that earnings from business activity such as hotel stays don’t qualify as emoluments and that any discovery would “be a distraction to the President’s performance of his constitutional duties.”
The president’s notice that he may seek a writ of mandamus — to have the appeal heard by a higher court — is considered an “extraordinary remedy” that partly rests on showing Messitte’s decisions to be clearly wrong.
Because the president has not released his tax returns, any responsive records would likely provide the first clear picture of the finances of Trump’s business empire as well as his Washington hotel.
There is no indication yet that Frosh and District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine, both Democrats, would push for the president’s tax returns, at least in this initial round of legal discovery, given the sensitive nature of such a request and likely additional delays it would cause. But tax returns for some of Trump’s business entities, including the state and federal tax returns for the Trump Organization, are also being requested.
Co-counsel on the case is Washington-based nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
The Treasury Department is being subpoenaed to determine not only whether its officials patronized Trump’s hotel but also to learn more about Trump’s promised donations of profit of foreign government spending at his hotel and similar businesses to the Treasury. In February, The Trump Organization donated $151,470 — what it said was the total amount of spending in Trump’s first year in office. The subpoena requests “all communications” regarding that payment.
State officials earlier told The Associated Press that the IRS would likely be subpoenaed, but it was unclear if that would happen on Tuesday or whether it would happen at all.
“We’re certainly not ruling that out, just like we’re not ruling out seeking the president’s tax returns,” Frosh said.
The Trump Organization said in an emailed statement to the AP that the company had “voluntarily donated” the profits and “intend to make a similar contribution in 2019.” The company did not comment on the case otherwise.
There is a separate federal lawsuit involving the General Services Administration, which oversees the lease for the hotel with the Trump Organization. Democratic lawmakers want to know how Trump was approved by the GSA to maintain the lease of the Trump International Hotel in Washington after he became president.
The hotel is housed in the historic Old Post Office, which is owned by the federal government, and its lease has a clause barring any “elected official of the government of the United States” from deriving “any benefit.”
Maine is also expected to receive a subpoena, likely because its governor, Republican Paul LePage, stayed at Trump’s D.C. hotel when he had official business to conduct, including discussions with the president. LePage’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
On one of those trips last year, Trump and LePage appeared together at a news conference at which Trump signed an executive order to review orders of the prior administration that established national monuments within the National Park Service. President Barack Obama had established a park and national monument in Maine over LePage’s objections in 2016.
If there are no delays, legal discovery would conclude in early August.
This story has been updated to reflect that state officials initially said they would subpoena the IRS on Tuesday but later said they could only confirm their plan to subpoena the Treasury Department.