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Democrats can sue Trump over payments

A US judge has ruled that congressional Democrats are able to sue President Donald Trump over claims he's violated a ban on accepting foreign payments.

A US federal court has refused to immediately dismiss a lawsuit accusing President Donald Trump of violating a constitutional anti-corruption provision by accepting foreign payments through his hotels and businesses without the permission of Congress.

US District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington says in a 58-page ruling that lawmakers who brought the suit have legal standing to sue the president for allegedly flouting the US constitution's "emoluments" clause, which prevents federal office holders accepting presents and other benefits from foreign governments without the "consent" of Congress.

The lawsuit, filed in June 2017, is the third constitutional challenge to Trump's business interests while in office but it is notable because the plaintiffs are themselves members of Congress.

The 198 members involved in the suit are all Democrats but also include Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

The constitutional provision at issue is designed to prevent corruption and foreign influence.

Sullivan says in his ruling the provision gives each member of Congress the right to vote before the president accepts a prohibited foreign emolument.

"Accordingly, plaintiffs adequately allege that the president has completely nullified their votes," Sullivan says.

"By recognising that members of Congress have standing to sue, the court proved to all in America today that no one is above the law, not even the president," said Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, a legal organisation representing the lawmakers.

Department of Justice spokeswoman Kelly Laco said the government "will continue to defend the president in court".

Trump, a wealthy real estate developer who as president regularly visits his own hotels, resorts and golf clubs, maintains ownership of his businesses but has ceded day-to-day control to his sons.

Critics have said that is not a sufficient safeguard.

Though Sullivan says the legislators are entitled to sue, he has yet to rule on whether the profits Trump earns from foreign governments are actually prohibited.

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