Sept. 13 (UPI) -- A lawsuit accusing President Donald Trump of profiting from his private businesses as commander in-chief of the United States -- and failing to put them into a blind trust -- can proceed, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled 2-1 in favor of the plaintiffs, led by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The suit says lobbyists, foreign officials and others gain favor with Trump by frequenting his businesses -- including high-end hotels, restaurants and event space in the New York City and Washington, D.C.
Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Washington event planner Jill Phaneuf and New York City entrepreneur Eric Goode are also named as plaintiffs. The suit names "Donald Trump, in his official capacity as President of the United States of America" as the sole defendant.
A lower court dismissed the suit in 2017, saying the case doesn't fall within the purview of the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The appellate court disagreed, saying the lower court judges misapplied a precedent case.
"Plaintiffs have plausibly pleaded that the President's ownership of hospitality businesses that compete with them will induce government patrons of the hospitality industry to favor Trump businesses over those of the Plaintiffs so as to secure favorable governmental action from the President and Executive branch," the court wrote in its decision Friday.
Upon taking office, Trump turned over day-to-day operations of his business empire to his children and established a trust to hold his business assets. But the suit argues he still owns them and fiscally benefits from their operation.
"If President Trump would like to avoid the case going further and curtail the serious harm caused his unconstitutional conduct, now would be a good time to divest from his business and end his violations of the Emoluments clauses of the Constitution," CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement.
Trump didn't immediately respond to the ruling, but criticized the case during a campaign visit in Pennsylvania.
"I got sued on a thing called emoluments. Emoluments. You ever hear of the word?" he said. "Nobody ever heard of it before. And what it is is presidential harassment, because [the presidency] is costing me a fortune, and I love it."
At the G7 summit in France last month, Trump floated the idea of holding next year's event at his Miami-area luxury resort -- and the U.S. Air Force said this week it's investigating dozens of occasions in which the branch's pilots stayed at Trump's resort in Turnberry, Scotland. The Air Force said they did so on as many as 40 occasions, a number far greater than initially believed.