President Trump is still on his victory lap after Republican members of the U.S. Senate decided to overlook his egregious abuse of power and let him remain as president, but other scandals in the most scandalous of administrations continue on.
Trump claimed a small victory in one of those, too, with an appellate court ruling Friday that individual members of Congress cannot sue him for violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bars government officials from receiving payments from foreign powers. The Democratic members of Congress who were trying to sue him argued that he was impermissibly accepting payments from foreign governments at his private businesses in other countries.
The problem, according to the court, is that the members of Congress who sued are part of a whole, and lack legal standing to sue as individual members. If Congress — or the House or the Senate separately — want to take on Trump over the emoluments issue (and it’s clear that he’s in violation) they can do so. But not a group of individual members.
And that seems like a reasonable line. Imagine the chaos if individual members of Congress could sue the executive over every dispute about how a policy is executed. Such disputes, of course, are inherently political.
“The members can, and likely will, continue to use their weighty voices to make their case to the American people, their colleagues in the Congress and the President himself, all of whom are free to engage that argument as they see fit,” the court said in an unsigned ruling. “But we will not — indeed we cannot — participate in this debate.”
That doesn’t mean the emoluments controversy is over. There’s a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court (which likely would not take up the case), and Trump still faces similar legal challenges in cases filed by Maryland and the District of Columbia attorneys general, and by several restaurants and the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The latter two cases have been ping-ponging between district and appellate courts, and don’t seem likely for a near-term resolution.
Still, the timing of Friday’s ruling is interesting.
It coincides with a Washington Post report that American taxpayers have been paying Trump’s businesses up to $650 a night to house Secret Service agents protecting the president during his regular trips to the Mar-a-Lago Club, the private resort he owns in Florida.
The Secret Service also paid $17,000 a month to rent a three-bedroom cottage at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, the president’s private golf club in New Jersey.
Remember, these are trips the president is taking to his own business entities, using tax dollars to both add to the cash flow of the enterprises, and to advertise the properties themselves.
And it’s not like these are occasional forays. NBC News reports that Trump has spent 329 days of his 1,113 days in office, or 30% of his time, at his own properties, thereby forcing the government, through security details and travel costs, to patronize his own businesses.
Scott Martelle, who joined the Los Angeles Times editorial board in 2014, is a veteran journalist and author of six history books.