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WASHINGTON — 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, Department of Agriculture and the Department of Treasury, 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 entities such as restaurants and hotels that compete with the Trump hotel are also being subpoenaed.
The Maryland attorney general's office confirmed the targets of the subpoenas to The Associated Press as they were being prepared Tuesday.
NBC News examined spending at the Trump International Hotel in Washington and in February 2018 sent FOIA requests to more than 70 government agencies requesting receipts at the hotel. Ten agencies reported spending at the hotel, totaling almost $56,000 taxpayer dollars spent between the soft launch in September 2016 and April 2018 when the final FOIA responses were sent to NBC. During that time frame, which includes several months when the agencies were overseen by the Obama administration, more than $29,000 was spent by the Department of Defense, almost $12,000 by the Department of Agriculture, more than $9,000 by the Internal Revenue Service (which is part of the Treasury Department), and more than $1,700 by the General Services Administration (GSA), which oversees the lease with the Trump Organization.
The subpoenas focus on answering three questions: which foreign domestic governments are paying the Trump International Hotel, where that money is going and how Trump's hotel is affecting the hospitality industry in the District of Columbia and Maryland.
To help answer those questions, the subpoenas are asking for records of payments to Trump from state government and federal agencies that patronized the hotel. They're also seeking information proving 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 the Trump Organization, Trump's personal attorney on the case, William S. Consovoy, nor the White House immediately responded to a request for comment Tuesday.
Trump's Justice Department lawyers have previously argued that earnings from such business activity as hotels stays don't qualify as emoluments. And in court papers last week challenging the judge's decision to move the case forward, Justice lawyers objected to any discovery on a sitting president in order to avoid a "constitutional confrontation." They also argued that any discovery would "be a distraction to the President's performance of his constitutional duties."
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 in a Richmond, Virginia, court. 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's hard to prove and partly rests on showing Messitte's decisions to be clearly wrong.
Because Trump was also the first president in modern history to not release 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, D.C., hotel.
There is no indication yet that Maryland Attorney General Brian 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.
There is a separate federal lawsuit involving the General Services Administration, which oversees the lease for the hotel with the Trump Organization. Democratic lawmakers last year sued demanding disclosures of records to determine how Trump was approved by the General Services Administration 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." Trump and his daughter Ivanka, a senior White House adviser, both retained their stakes in the property.
The plaintiffs' prior preservation subpoena filing requested documents that concern "marketing to foreign or domestic governments, including members of the diplomatic community" for 23 Trump-linked entities, be saved. Other noted categories for preservation include documents that would identify guests of the hotel and those who have rented event space, details on all finances and "operating leases, permits, licenses, tax payments or credits to or from foreign or domestic governments."
Maine also received a subpoena, likely because its governor, Republican Paul LePage, stayed at Trump's hotel in Washington when he had official business to conduct, including discussions with the president. Representatives for LePage's office did not immediately 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.