WASHINGTON (AP) — Justice Department lawyers appeared on Friday to be challenging a Maryland federal judge's decision to allow a case accusing President Donald Trump of violating the U.S. Constitution to move forward to legal discovery.
But the late afternoon filing was only a notice to the court that it could petition the appeals court in Richmond, Virginia. The "response of the president" came as U.S. District Court Judge Peter J. Messitte is poised to potentially allow the subpoenas to begin flowing on Monday. Such information would likely provide the first clear picture of the finances of Trump's Washington, D.C. hotel.
Trump has been fighting multiple lawsuits that argue foreign representatives' spending money at the Trump International Hotel are violations of the Constitution's emoluments clause, which bans federal officials from accepting benefits from foreign or state governments without congressional approval.
The attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia allege that Trump, who hasn't divested himself of his business holdings, is profiting off the presidency.
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," according to the Justice Department's website, which "should only be used in exceptional circumstances of peculiar emergency or public importance."
It's also a move with a demanding standard for petitioners that would partly rest on showing Messitte's decisions to be clearly wrong.
This was the second effort by the president's legal team to delay proceedings. Messitte responded earlier this month to Justice Department efforts for a mid-case appeal with a somewhat blistering opinion that said merely disagreeing with the court doesn't constitute a required "substantial" reason for the appeal. He also said he was unwilling to entertain delaying methods that might be used by the Justice Department lawyers.
"The court has already rejected this type of dilatory behavior on the part of the president and we believe that it's unfounded," said Norman Eisen, chairman of the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which is co-counsel with the two jurisdictions. "We believe that discovery should proceed and we're prepared to commence should the court so order."
Friday's filing in the Maryland court noted that "the president does not believe that discovery should commence now but should await the court of appeals' resolutions of the mandamus petition and stay application. If this court nevertheless finds that discovery should proceed now, then the president does not object to the discovery schedule proposed by plaintiffs."
The Justice Department declined to comment beyond the filing.