In this photo taken Dec. 21, 2106, the Trump International Hotel in Washington. 
Alex Brandon

Exploiting shutdown, Trump's lawyers try to delay emoluments case

The Associated Press published a good report this morning on the degree to which Donald Trump's presidency has "changed Washington," and toward the end of the piece, the article noted that international leaders "have taken to heart that flattery, pageantry, golf and maybe some business at a Trump-owned hotel are the pathway to a good relationship with the president."

It's very easy to believe world leaders think this way, but it speaks to a dynamic that isn't supposed to legally exist: foreign officials shouldn't be able to curry favor with an American president by doing business with the American president's hotel.

The Constitution's Emoluments Clause exists to prevent U.S. officials from receiving payments from foreign governments, and when world leaders indirectly give the American president money through his private-sector enterprise, it certainly looks like a legally problematic dynamic -- which, as regular readers know, is currently the subject of federal litigation.

And how's that case going? Politico published an article today that stood out for a good reason.

Lawyers for President Donald Trump are invoking the government shutdown to seek a delay in a court case over claims that Trump is illegally profiting from business his Washington hotel does with foreign countries.

Justice Department attorneys representing Trump asked a federal appeals court on Wednesday to postpone indefinitely all further filings in an appeal related to a suit that the governments of Maryland and Washington, D.C., filed over Trump's alleged violation of the Constitution's ban on foreign emoluments.

The government's brief is not due until Jan. 22, but DOJ lawyers asked the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Va., to put the appeal on ice until the shutdown ends.

This creates an awkward set of incentives for the man at the heart of the case.

I can't speak to Donald Trump's motivations in any detail, but the more the shutdown and the emoluments case are linked, the more incentive he has to keep the government shut down in order to block legal scrutiny of his legally dubious personal profits from foreign sources.

To a very real extent, this reinforces the importance of the case itself: we're not supposed to have a system in which a president should even confront these kinds of choices.

Nevertheless, as Politico's report added, "A short time after the government filed the request, the court agreed to put the case on hold indefinitely."