Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s decision to stay at the Trump International Hotel in Washington last year may have helped advance a Maryland court case challenging the President Donald Trump’s ability to hold onto his financial stake in his business empire.
A federal judge in Maryland ruled Wednesday that the attorneys general in Maryland and Washington, D.C., have standing to pursue a case alleging that Trump’s ongoing financial ties to the Trump International Hotel In Washington violate what’s known as the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The emoluments provision prohibits federal officials from receiving payments or other financial benefits from domestic or foreign government actors. The emoluments issue has dogged Trump since he took office in 2017; critics argue that he can profit from the presidency because those looking to win his favor may feel obliged to patron his businesses, including his hotel in Washington.
LePage is being used to bolster that argument in the Maryland case.
In attempting to persuade the Maryland judge that they have standing to pursue the emoluments case, the District of Columbia and Maryland attorneys general cited LePage’s stay at the Trump International Hotel last spring.
Shortly thereafter, the governor appeared alongside President Trump at a news conference in which the president signed an executive order reviewing recently designated national monuments. One of the monuments, Katahdin Woods and Waters, was fiercely opposed by LePage before its designation by President Obama in 2016.
Plaintiffs in the Maryland case argued that LePage’s patronage indicates that state officials may feel compelled to stay at Trump’s hotel and that the president’s financial stake in the hotel has disadvantaged other hotels and businesses in the Washington area.
“Leaving aside how Maine’s citizens may have felt about the propriety of their Governor living large at the Hotel while on official business in Washington,” the plaintiffs wrote, “the fact that States other than Maryland or the District of Columbia (while, not a State) might patronize the Hotel while on official business in Washington rather clearly suggests that Maryland and the District of Columbia may very well feel themselves obliged, i.e., coerced, to patronize the Hotel in order to help them obtain federal favors.”
The plaintiffs arguments regarding LePage was cited in U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte’s ruling released Wednesday.
“In addition, at least one state – the state of Maine – patronized the hotel when its governor, Paul LePage, visited Washington to discuss official business with the federal government, including discussions with the president,” Messitte wrote.
He added, “Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that the president is violating the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses of the constitution by reason of his involvement with and receipt of benefits from the Trump International Hotel and its appurtenances in Washington, D.C. as well as the operations of the Trump organization with respect to the same,” Messitte wrote.
LePage’s patronage at Trump’s Washington hotel was confirmed last year when the Portland Press Herald obtained travel receipts from the governor’s office and his security detail. The governor has not fully complied with the paper’s public records request.
Messitte’s ruling is a small step in the emoluments case, but so far it is advancing further than similar cases introduced in other states.
LePage’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.