89.1 WEMU

Peter Overby

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Updated at 1 p.m. ET

Barely a month ago, a federal judge in New York dismissed an anti-corruption lawsuit against President Trump.

But on Thursday, another federal judge, in a different courtroom, gave the same basic argument a much friendlier response.

Judge Peter Messitte, of federal district court in Greenbelt, Md., seemed sympathetic to the assertion that Trump profits from the nexus of his hotels and the presidency.

As President Trump marks the first anniversary of his inauguration, his lawyers are preparing for next week's preliminary arguments in a suit that alleges he is violating the Constitution's anti-corruption provisions, known as the foreign and domestic Emoluments Clauses.

President Trump marks his first year in the White House on Jan. 20. Since he took the oath, he's been dogged by questions about his hundreds of businesses and the conflicts of interest they pose.

In attempts to confront Trump and force him to address these conflicts, congressional Democrats, state attorneys general and watchdog groups have sued the president. So far, their cases have not advanced very far in court. A federal judge has dismissed one suit.

Wealthy Americans may get a new conduit for political money in the tax overhaul bill now being reconciled on Capitol Hill.

A small provision in the House version of the bill would let big donors secretly give unlimited amounts to independent political groups — and write off the contributions as charitable gifts.

President Trump has never been shy about promoting his businesses.

Even at a press conference after the racially tinged violence in Charlottesville, Va., he paused for a product placement:

"Charlottesville is a great place that's been very badly hurt over the last couple of days. I own, I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States. It's in Charlottesville."

President Trump's charitable foundation received nearly $2.9 million in contributions in 2016, its latest federal tax filing shows — a million dollars more than it raised in the previous three years combined.

Three donors gave the Donald J. Trump Foundation more than 80 percent of its 2016 contributions. Million-dollar donations came from Las Vegas casino owner Phil Ruffin, a friend of Trump's, and Laura Perlmutter, a Trump family friend and big donor to Republican causes. Ivanka Trump gave $100,000. There's no record of any funds from Trump himself.

The Federal Election Commission is moving to improve disclosure of the money behind Internet and digital ads, as the shadow of Russian-funded social media ads in last year's presidential race hangs over the agency.

"We can't, obviously, take over the role of the Justice Department or of Congress," Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub told other commissioners Thursday, "but I do think that we could do this little piece."

Washington used to operate one scandal at a time.

Not anymore. Here are just some of the scandals currently brewing:

  • The indictment of President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner, Rick Gates, in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of possible ties between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia.

In a legal settlement that still awaits a federal judge's approval, the IRS "expresses its sincere apology" for mistreating a conservative organization called Linchpins of Liberty — along with 40 other conservative groups — in their applications for tax-exempt status.

And in a second case, NorCal Tea Party Patriots and 427 other groups suing the IRS also reached a "substantial financial settlement" with the government.

If there's one thing President Trump's critics want from him, and he refuses to give up, it's his tax returns.

The returns didn't come up during Wednesday's hearing in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan. But the hearing was the first step in a process that could loosen Trump's grip on them.

If the next step goes the plaintiffs' way, the case could make the president's tax returns surface.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

On Wednesday morning, a federal judge in Manhattan will hear preliminary arguments in a case that claims President Trump is violating the Constitution's ban on accepting foreign payments, or emoluments.

Updated at 3:20 p.m. ET

As Democratic pols jettison their old contributions from Harvey Weinstein, the former entertainment executive embroiled in multiple allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, his cash is not likely to leave a big hole in party coffers.

Mar-a-Lago, President Trump's private club and winter White House in Palm Beach, Fla., is a casual place. And so, it seems, are any official records of those who visit him there.

Ever since Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico last month, President Trump has been pointing out the commonwealth's "massive debt," as he has put it.

And then on Tuesday on Fox News, he warned Puerto Rico's investors that "you can say goodbye" to the debt issued by the battered U.S. territory.

It wasn't clear exactly what Trump meant by that. But the president's views on Puerto Rico's troubles may have been informed by his own experiences there. Not long ago, he himself ended up on the wrong side of a bet on Puerto Rico's financial health.

These are tough times for Washington's roughly 400 think tanks — the policy factories where scholars get paid to study issues and give politicians advice. Powerful external forces are reshaping the industry.

One current example is the left-leaning New America Foundation, founded in 1999. It works on public policies for the digital age. Last month it landed in the think tank industry's latest money controversy.

The federal ethics agency may be opening the door for anonymous donors to pay legal fees for White House staffers.

It could happen just as special counsel Robert Mueller draws closer to the White House in his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with Trump campaign.

Several conservative and pro-Trump groups are said to be considering creating such funds to help White House staffers who may be interviewed by investigators, but who can't afford Washington's high-priced ethics lawyers.

A watchdog group wants the feds to investigate some of the estimated 3,300 Russian-backed ads that appeared on Facebook during the 2016 presidential campaign.

It's been a summer of booming business at President Trump's Washington, D.C., hotel: a sweet season enhanced by the spending of foreign diplomats and lobbyists. But now a watchdog group and the Justice Department are preparing their first courtroom arguments for a lawsuit alleging the hotel was a hotbed of continuing violations by the president of the Constitution's Foreign Emoluments Clause.

President Trump, with a well-known fondness for golf hats bearing slogans, toured post-Hurricane Houston on Tuesday wearing white headgear emblazoned with "USA." It had a U.S. flag on one side, and on the other side — maybe this was the giveaway — the numeral 45. Trump is the 45th president.

When President Trump commented last week on the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., a reporter asked him if he planned to visit the city.

Trump's reply veered far off the volatile topic of race relations: "I mean, I know a lot about Charlottesville. Charlottesville is a great place that's been very badly hurt over the last couple of days." There was crosstalk as Trump continued: "I own, I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States. It's in Charlottesville."

How is Washington spending tax dollars that might benefit President Trump? Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee want to count the ways.

The committee's 18 minority members sent letters on Tuesday to the 15 cabinet departments and nine independent executive branch agencies, requesting documents on their spending at "businesses owned by or affiliated with the Trump Organization."

They said the letters are the first step in an investigation of federal spending involving Trump companies.

As Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller investigates alleged Russian ties to the Trump presidential campaign, the White House and some Republicans in Congress are calling for a second investigation.

The proposed target is a retired woman living in a small town in New York's Hudson Valley: Hillary Clinton.

When presidential adviser Jared Kushner appeared last week in a closed-door meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the focus was on his contacts with Russia representatives during the 2016 campaign.

Some critics say questions about Russian contacts are so serious that Kushner should lose his White House security clearance. But few are expecting he will get fired. He is, after all, married to the president's daughter.

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