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U.S. judge rejects Trump bid to dismiss foreign payments lawsuit

U.S. President Donald Trump walks from Marine One as he returns from Kansas City, Missouri, to the White House in Washington, U.S., July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

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(Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday rejected U.S. President Donald Trump's latest effort to dismiss a lawsuit accusing him of unconstitutionally doing business with foreign governments while occupying the White House.

U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte in Greenbelt, Maryland said the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia, Brian Frosh and Karl Racine, had plausibly alleged that Trump's activity violated the Constitution's "emoluments" clause.

That clause bars U.S. officials from accepting various gifts from foreign governments without congressional approval, and is designed to thwart corruption and improper influence.

Messitte had in March narrowed the lawsuit to focus on profits stemming from Trump's ownership, through the Trump Organization, of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, a popular spot for foreign officials.

"We continue to maintain that this case should be dismissed, a position that was shared by a New York court in a related case," Andy Reuss, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said in an email. "The Justice Department is reviewing the order and determining next steps to continue vigorously defending the President."

Reuss was referring to the dismissal last December of a lawsuit by plaintiffs including the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit watchdog. The judge in that case held that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing to bring the lawsuit.

In his 52-page decision, Messitte rejected what he called Trump's "cramped" view that the clause was essentially limited to bribes, and said the plaintiffs had "convincingly argued" that it had a broader meaning.

Racine tweeted after the decision: "We are one step closer to stopping President Trump from violating the Constitution's original anti-corruption provisions."

Frosh's office had no immediate comment.

Roughly 200 U.S. senators and representatives, all Democrats, filed a related lawsuit against Trump in June 2017, demanding that he obtain congressional approval before accepting emoluments. The judge in that case has not ruled on its merits.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by James Dalgleish and Steve Orlofsky)

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