In this May 2, 2017, file photo, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, left, testifies during a House Natural Resources subcommittee oversight hearing on Antiquities Act on Capitol Hill in Washington. During the trip, LePage’s travel group spent four nights at the Trump International Hotel. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

A stay by Maine Gov. Paul LePage at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. in early 2017 is playing a key role in a federal lawsuit against the president by the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia.

U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte said in an opinion Wednesday that the state and district have legal standing to pursue their suit, which charges Trump with violating the Constitution by mixing his business interests with his official work as president.

Messitte cited a visit by LePage to Trump International and subsequent appearance with Trump at a press conference as an example of how Trump may have received a financial benefit from another government figure, a potential violation of the “Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clause” of the Constitution.

LePage’s stay at the Trump International Hotel last February was first revealed by the Portland Press Herald following a public records request for the travel receipts of LePage and his State Police security detail. The state’s Department of Public Safety partially complied with the request for travel receipts, which revealed that the governor’s security team stayed at the hotel and purchased room service meals from the hotel’s restaurant. But LePage’s office still hasn’t produced copies of his expense reports, a year after the public records request.

“Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that the President is violating the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution by reason of his involvement with and receipt of benefits from the Trump International Hotel and its appurtenances in Washington, D.C. as well as the operations of the Trump Organization with respect to the same,” Messitte wrote in his 47-page opinion. As supporting evidence, the judge singles out LePage’s visits to the hotel.

“In addition, at least one State – the State of Maine – patronized the Hotel when its Governor, Paul LePage, visited Washington to discuss official business with the Federal Government, including discussions with the President. Indeed on one of those trips, the President and Governor LePage appeared together at a news conference at which the President sign an executive order to review orders of the prior administration that established a national monuments within the National Park Service, which could apply to a park and national monument in Maine, which President Obama had established over LePage’s objections in 2016.”

Later in the opinion, Messitte returns to the subject of LePage’s visit.

“Leaving aside how Maine’s citizens may have felt about the propriety of their Governor living large at the Hotel while on official business in Washington, the fact that States, other than Maryland or the District of Columbia (while, not a State) might patronize the Hotel while on official business rather clearly suggests that Maryland and the District of Columbia may very well feel themselves obliged, i.e., coerced, to patronize the Hotel in order to help them obtain federal favors,” Messitte wrote.

LePage’s press secretary Julie Rabinowitz said the governor’s stay at the Trump International Hotel was not an attempt at influencing the president.

“The Governor chooses hotels based upon several factors including price, availability and security,” Rabinowitz wrote in an email to the Press Herald. “He has stayed at many different hotels in Washington, D.C., and any insinuation or speculation that a stay in a Trump hotel is made with an expectation or hope of some type of quid-pro-quo is false and irresponsible.”

The governor’s office has yet to fully comply with the Press Herald’s public records requests under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act in March of 2017. However, documents from Maine State Police showed that the governor’s security team, which is required to accompany him on his travels, routinely paid $300 to $500 a night – and sometimes as much as $750 per night – for rooms at exclusive hotels in a downtown Washington, D.C. area that offers dozens of other, less expensive lodgings.

During one trip, members of LePage’s travel group spent four nights at the Trump International Hotel at a time when the governor met with top administration officials and testified before Congress on a national monument designation that he lobbied President Trump to rescind.

The stay at Trump International – a magnet for foreign dignitaries and Washington insiders, and a symbol of the murky line between the president’s political and business interests – was a pricey one. All told, the tab for rooms, the $56-per-day valet parking and food – including $40 breakfasts from the hotel’s BLT Prime restaurant – totaled $2,250 just for LePage’s security team.

In November, Messitte ordered President Trump’s business to preserve relevant records and provided Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh and D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine – both Democrats – with subpoena power to acquire documents should the case advance, the Washington Post reported.

Trump no longer holds a management position with the Trump Organization, however, he still earns money from his hotels, golf courses and other real estate investments in the U.S. and several foreign countries.

The Trump Organization has referred questions about the case to the government.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: thisdog

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