- The Washington Times
Thursday, March 9, 2017

A D.C. restaurant announced Thursday that it is suing the Trump International Hotel and President Trump himself, charging that he is violating the terms of his lease because he is a government employee who retains an ownership stake in the hotel.

Cork Wine Bar’s attorneys said they expect customers who might have dined at the restaurant will instead go to one of the places in the Trump complex, hoping to curry favor with the administration.

Cork says it wants a judge to force Mr. Trump to divest his ownership or find some other way to make sure the hotel doesn’t benefit unfairly from its connection to the president, including, at least potentially, Mr. Trump’s resignation from the presidency.

“The lease was set up by the government with this possibility in mind and to specifically prevent the very thing that is occurring now,” said Scott Rome, one of the lawyers representing the restaurant.

The federal lease for the Old Post Office building prohibited the new tenant from being a federal employee and benefiting from the agreement. Mr. Trump signed the lease for his hotel at the Old Post Office before winning the presidency.

The General Services Administration, which runs federal properties, has said it’s studying the situation to see whether the president’s position is a violation.

Alan Garten, executive vice president and chief legal officer at the Trump Organization, called the lawsuit “a wild publicity student” that is “completely lacking in legal merit.”

But Cork says the violation is clear and is hurting its business.

Mr. Rome told The Washington Times that he believes he and his client can demonstrate that in court, although the complaint states, “those losses cannot be determined in a manner that would enable Cork to recover damages.”

Still, the complaint points to the ambassador of Azerbaijan, to whom Cork Wine Bar previously served food and beverages. Cork says the ambassador held an event at the Trump Hotel after the election.

“We have seen our business has declined,” said Khalid Pitts, who owns Cork Wine Bar with his wife.

Steve Klein, a lawyer in the District, reviewed the complaint and told The Washington Times that he doesn’t think this case will go far.

“They’re dressing up a contract claim under this broad, broad claim of unfair competition, but really what they’re trying to do is enforce a contract that they have no right to enforce,” Mr. Klein said.

Mr. Trump has rejected calls to give up ownership of his real estate empire, though he has turned over operations to his sons.

Mr. Trump has, however, said any profits gleaned from foreign governments that pay at his hotels will be donated to the U.S. Treasury. That was an effort to comply with the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits the president from receiving gifts — which could be seen as bribes — from foreign countries.

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