WASHINGTON (CN) – A local wine bar claims President Donald Trump's new job gives an unfair advantage to his glitzy Washington, D.C., hotel at the expense of other businesses competing for the attention of lobbyists, elected officials and other dignitaries.
Cork Wine Bar, which sits roughly 15 blocks from the Trump International Hotel, claims in the 11-page complaint filed Wednesday in D.C. Superior Court that ever since Trump became president, Washington's political class has felt pressure to use the hotel for their fundraisers and other events, abandoning old haunts like Cork.
"The reason for the increase in business for defendants was the perception by many of the customers and prospective customers of the hotel, substantially aided by the marketing efforts of officers and employees of the hotel, as well as members of the family of defendant Donald J. Trump and others associated with him, that it would be to their advantage in their dealings with President Donald J. Trump and other agencies of the United States government if they patronized the hotel," the lawsuit states.
The complaint, first reported by the Washington Post, cites an "Asian diplomat" and an anonymous "DC-based lobbyist" who said they chose to frequent Trump's hotel because of the potential political benefits that might come from sipping their cocktails inside a building plastered with the president's name.
"There is a reason that the senior staff hang out in the lobby bar at the hotel," the anonymous lobbyist claims, as quoted in the complaint. "They are seeing who spends time and money there and who books large parties there and large blocks of rooms for delegations."
The wine bar notes a number of times when Trump himself or his surrogates promoted the hotel since the election, including when Press Secretary Sean Spice called it "absolutely stunning" and encouraged people to visit "if you haven't been by" at a press briefing the day before the inauguration.
Cork also says it once hosted the ambassador of Azerbaijan, but that after the election the ambassador hosted an event at Trump's hotel. According to the Washington Post, Cork's owners, Khalid Pitts and Diane Gross, have actively pushed liberal causes in the past.
Pitts ran for office in D.C. in 2014 and was once the political director for the Sierra Club, according to the newspaper.
Cork claims that even though Trump has placed his interests in the hotel in a revocable trust, the fact that he stands to make money off the property now that he is in office violates a section of his lease with the General Services Administration, which leased the Old Post Office building to the Trump organization in 2013.
The complaint is filed against Trump Old Post Office LLC and Donald J. Trump in his personal capacity. Cork Wine Bar does not seek monetary damages for its unfair competition claim, but says the playing field can only be level if the hotel closes down, if Trump fully divests himself, or if he resigns as president.
The wine bar is represented by four attorneys, including Mark Zaid, a frequent representative of journalists and open-government groups, and Scott Rome of the Washington-based Veritas Law Firm. Alan Morrison and Steven Schooner, both law professors at George Washington University, also signed onto the case.
A Trump Hotels spokesperson said, "The lawsuit is a wild publicity stunt completely lacking in legal merit."
The Trump International Hotel is no stranger to lawsuits in D.C. Superior Court, as it already faces one from celebrity chef Jose Andres, who dropped out of a contract to open a restaurant in the building after Trump made negative comments about immigrants when announcing his campaign.
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