Restaurant Group Serves Up Emoluments Challenge

MANHATTAN (CN) — Down a stretch of Washington’s “Embassy Row,” hotels and restaurants catering to foreign diplomats and government officials now find themselves competing with the president of the United States.

Fighting back on Tuesday morning, a group of hospitality-industry heavyweights joined the federal lawsuit in Manhattan that takes aim President Donald Trump’s obligations under the Constitution’s foreign and domestic emoluments clauses.

The foreign clause bars any elected officials from accepting “any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state,” while the domestic clause forbids the presidents alone to receive “any other emolument” than compensation.

When Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) brought its suit over the issue on Jan. 23, three days after Trump’s inauguration, legal observers questioned whether the Washington-based nonprofit would be able to establish standing necessary to pursue the case.

Addressing this very issue in an April 18 amended complaint, CREW is now joined by more than 200 restaurants co-plaintiffs and Washington-based hotel booker Jill Phaneuf.

Noting that Phaneuf books events for the Kimpton Carlyle Hotel and the Kimpton Glover Park Hotel, the complaint says her compensation depends upon her ability to book embassy functions and political functions involving foreign governments.

“The hotels for which Ms. Phaneuf seeks to book embassy and political functions and other events compete with hotels owned by defendant or in which defendant has a financial interest,” the 66-page complaint states.

But Trump International Hotel jumped on that market shortly after the presidential election, as reported by the Washington Post, hosting an event that attracted 100 foreign diplomats.

One anonymous “Asian diplomat” bluntly spelled out the dynamic to the paper.

“Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’” the diplomat reportedly said. “Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, ‘I am staying at your competitor?’”

In the months since Trump’s election, Trump International Hotel has hosted governments and embassies from various Middle Eastern countries, including Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

The other co-plaintiff in Tuesday’s complaint is ROC United, a New York-based nonprofit representing nearly 25,000 workers and more than 200 restaurants.

“”The Trump administration’s conflicts of interest do direct harm to ROC United and to the millions of Americans — workers, employers, and allied consumers — our organization represents,” the group’s co-founder and co-director Saru Jayaraman said in a statement. “We need a president who puts the success and security of the American people ahead of his own financial interests and those of his fellow elites.”

As in the original lawsuit, the amended complaint blasts Trump’s “vast, complicated and secret” business interests.

“As the framers were aware, private financial interests can subtly sway even the most virtuous leaders, and entanglements between American officials and foreign powers could pose a creeping, insidious threat to the republic,” both versions state.

Joseph Sellers, with the firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, represents Phaneuf and ROC United.

They join an all-star legal team that includes President Barack Obama’s attorney Norman Eisen and President George W. Bush’s lawyer Richard Painter, plus three professors from top law schools and a Supreme Court litigator.

The scholars include Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California at Irvine; Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe; and Fordham Law School professor Zephyr Teachout, a two-time candidate for political office and fierce advocate for progressive causes.

Deepak Gupta, the founding principal of Gupta Wessler, continues to represent CREW, the anti-corruption watchdog.

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