How does a restaurant compete with the restaurant in the president's hotel? Two Washington restaurateurs say they can't -- and have sued him over it.
The owners of Cork Wine Bar and Cork Market & Tasting Room in Northwest D.C. say the restaurants in the Trump International Hotel have an unfair competitive advantage, and it's hurting the D.C. restaurant scene.
Co-owners Khalid Pitts and Diane Gross allege unfair competition under local law and filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court against Trump personally and against the Trump Old Post Office LLC, which operates the hotel. They say Trump should be disqualified from having his name on a lease with the U.S. government for property.
"We know that people -- from foreign dignitaries to members of Congress to heads of state and of national and international associations -- have a choice of where to dine and stay and hold events," Pitts said at a news conference Thursday. "Why wouldn't they go to a place that most pleases the president of the United States?"
On 14th Street, neighbor Stuart Smith said he sympathized with business owners.
"I think they're a local company that has to watch out for their bottom line. I'm not sure how many dignitaries came here in the past," he said.
The restaurateurs aren't seeking monetary damages but are asking Trump to remedy the unfair competition — by resigning, divesting from the hotel or closing it while he is president. Pitts and Gross are represented by business and government watchdog attorneys who say they are working for free.
Alan Garten, lead attorney for the Trump Organization, dismissed the lawsuit as "a wild publicity stunt completely lacking in legal merit." Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, could not immediately be reached.
Cork Wine Bar is located on 14th Street NW near R Street, about 1 1/2 miles northwest of the Trump International Hotel.
Pitts is politically active, having run in 2014 as an independent for a seat on the D.C. Council. Prior to that race, he had been registered as a Democrat. He previously did work for the Service Employees International Union. Gross, a lawyer, worked from 2003 to 2005 for former Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat.
Pitts said the couple's political leanings are "irrelevant." He said his dining, catering and events business is down since Trump took office, but he declined to give details.
Under constitutional immunity protections, Trump cannot be sued over official acts in the Oval Office. But he can be named in lawsuits for personal actions or those involving his businesses.
Trump turned over management of his companies to his two adult sons and a senior company executive. He retains ownership of his global business empire, which includes the hotel.