A pair of Democrat political activists turned bar owners are suing President Donald Trump over claims that his new Trump International Hotel is unfairly hurting business at their wine bar.
Khalid Pitts and Diane Gross, owners of Cork Wine Bar in Washington, D.C., aren’t seeking damages in the suit against Trump, but instead seek to block operation of his hotel until Trump either resigns as president or fully divests himself from the property.
The pair say Trump’s new hotel, which is located in a different neighborhood in the U.S. capital, about 1.5 miles from their bar, has caused them to lose business. They could point to no specific examples to back up their claim, though, and acknowledged that their 70-seat restaurant faces stiff competition from the various other bars and restaurants near its popular 14th Street location.
“We have events we do here for elected officials, nonprofits, foreign dignitaries, the World Bank, law firms,” Gross told The Washington Post. “Those folks are now being courted to come and want to go there [Trump Hotel] because they see it as advantageous to them to curry favor with the president.”
Their lawsuit claims Trump’s position as president puts him in conflict with a clause in the hotel’s lease that says no federal officials can benefit from the deal. The General Services Administration, which handles the lease, has yet to say whether it considers Trump in violation of the deal.
‘Publicity stunt’ alleged
When Trump became president he took steps to distance himself from the hotel and put his sons, Eric and Donald, Jr., in charge of operations. He also promised to donate any profits from foreign clients to the U.S. Treasury, to avoid running afoul of ethics laws.
Eric Trump told the Post the lawsuit was “a publicity stunt.”
“It’s people who have nothing better to do, so they harass and they harass and the [court] will throw it out…. It’s ridiculous,” he said.
In addition to owning Cork Wine Bar, Pitts is a partner at the liberal activist organization Democracy Partners, where his bio describes him as “a key leader in the progressive movement with 20 years of experience managing political and legislative campaigns.”
Federal Election Commission data shows he has donated more than $3,000 to Democrat political campaigns since 2007, including to Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton in 2015.
Gross is a former civil rights attorney and counsel to Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski.
Lawyers representing the couple pro-bono also have ties to Democratic politics, including George Washington University law school professor Steven Schooner, who donated $1,250 to help elect former president Barack Obama in 2008, and Alan Morrison, who donated $200 to the Democratic National Committee in 2016.
Gross told the Los Angeles Times that the lawsuit isn’t a political attack on Trump, though. “This is about something that is patently unfair,” she said.