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Kentucky governor’s stay at Trump hotel could carry legal implications for president

Gov. Matt Bevin’s 2018 visit to Trump’s D.C. hotel likely to become fodder for plaintiffs in cases against Trump.

President Trump steps off Air Force One with Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin at Louisville International Airport in August. Bevin was recently ousted by Democrat Andy Beshear. (Mandel Ngan/Afp Via Getty Images)
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When Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin came to Washington in January for two nights — one of many visits the Republican had made to the nation’s capital — he stayed at President Trump’s D.C. hotel. Kentucky taxpayers initially footed the $686 bill, records obtained by The Washington Post show.

Although Kentucky’s Republican Party reimbursed the state for Bevin’s stay two months later, the transaction may still run afoul of an anti-corruption provision of the Constitution barring the president from receiving any “emoluments,” or payments, from the states, legal experts say.

In two cases wending their way through federal court, plaintiffs have alleged that Trump — by retaining his financial interest in his companies and doing business with state governments — has violated the Constitution’s domestic emoluments clause. A central example cited by plaintiffs has been visits to the hotel by fervent Trump supporter and Republican Paul LePage, while he was governor of Maine.

Bevin’s previously unreported stay at the hotel is now likely to become another example for plaintiffs in one case as soon as three weeks from now. Attorneys general for D.C. and Maryland plan to argue in federal appeals court that the president must receive approval from Congress to accept payments from states or from foreign governments.

Attorneys defending Trump have argued in court that the emoluments clauses do not bar the president from accepting market-rate hotel room payments and that Trump has not violated either of the emoluments clauses.

As governor, Bevin has been a close ally of Trump, running a campaign spot saying that Trump "is taking America to new heights” and that “together our changes are working.” He has been a regular White House visitor, attending events on workforce development and criminal justice. Earlier this month, Trump campaigned in Kentucky on behalf of Bevin’s reelection bid, which failed when Bevin lost to Democrat Andy Beshear last week.

Trump emoluments case over his D.C. hotel gets second chance in legal challenge

Other guests have acknowledged staying at the hotel as a way of trying to curry favor with the president. Trump’s company is now considering selling the property, citing the difficulty of maximizing profits while Trump is in office.

The documents detailing Bevin’s stay were provided to The Post by the government watchdog group American Oversight, which acquired them through a public documents request. Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, said the hotel represented "the president’s mixing of business, politics, and public service, which it seems Matt Bevin may have chosen to emulate as well.”

Spokespeople for Bevin and the Kentucky Republican Party did not respond to requests for comment.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine, Democrats suing Trump over the constitutional provisions, said through spokespeople that such a state-funded stay — even though it was later reimbursed by a political party — would strengthen their case.

“As we alleged in our complaint, we believe that instances like this are taking place regularly and we are not surprised to learn of this development,” Frosh spokeswoman Raquel Coombs said.

Judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit are scheduled to hear arguments in the case Dec. 12 in Richmond, and legal experts expect that because no court has ever previously ruled on the emoluments provisions, the case is likely to reach the Supreme Court.

In a separate case, business owners are suing Trump over the emoluments clause, alleging that he has used the presidency to unfair advantage over competing restaurants and hotels. That case is with the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. A third case, brought by congressional Democrats, focuses on foreign spending at Trump properties.

Trump’s Washington hotel has fallen behind competitors, with rooms running nearly half empty, marketing materials show

Deepak Gupta, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that “it’s quite possible that this payment constitutes a violation of the domestic emoluments clause.”

“To prevent domestic corruption, that clause strictly limits the president to a fixed salary and bars him from accepting ‘any other emolument’ from any of the States,” he said.

William S. Consovoy, a private attorney for Trump, did not respond to a request for comment. Consovoy has argued that the president cannot be investigated for any crime while he is in office.

The Justice Department, which is also defending Trump in the cases, declined to comment. Officials at the Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment.

It is unclear why Bevin was in Washington Jan. 29-31, 2018, or whether other state officials, such as support staff members or security personnel, stayed at the Trump hotel with him.