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D.C. Restaurant Sues Donald Trump, Trump Hotel Over Unfair Competition

Mar 9, 2017
Originally published on March 11, 2017 8:40 am
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The owners of a wine bar in Washington, D.C., have filed a lawsuit against President Trump. They say he's unfairly promoting the nearby Trump International Hotel. The Trump Organization has the lease for the hotel, and the plaintiffs say the president's ties to the hotel create unfair competition and hurt local businesses. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Diane Gross and Khalid Pitts on the Cork Wine Bar & Market. Their place is nearly 10 years old. And more to the point, in a city where national politics often tramples over local concerns, Cork is about 20 blocks uptown from the White House and Trump International Hotel. At a press conference this morning, Pitts said the hotel is unfair competition for local restaurants.

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KHALID PITTS: And we feel that the president of the United States owning a hotel, owning restaurants, promoting those restaurants is unfair and to the detriment of other businesses in the city.

OVERBY: A platoon of lawyers joined Gross and Pitts to announce the lawsuit. It's not a federal case but was filed last night in D.C. Superior Court. Here are two arguments. First is the Trump Hotel's emerging reputation as the place to be for lobbyists, political players and foreign diplomats. The lawsuit cites examples of the president, his family and administration officials seeking to boost what the lawsuit calls the hotel's income-producing potential.

The second argument is about the hotel's lease. Trump owns the hotel, but the federal government owns the building. A provision in the lease says no federal elected official can be on the lease or benefit from it. Lawyer Steven Schooner said an elected official shouldn't be competing with the private sector.

STEVEN SCHOONER: It's an unacceptable conflict, and nobody ever intended that this be tolerated.

OVERBY: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about the lawsuit at this afternoon's briefing. He didn't speak to the suit itself, but he reiterated that a president is not covered by the federal conflicts of interest law.

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SEAN SPICER: You know, obviously the president has made very clear in that December press conference at Trump Tower he is - he doesn't have conflicts, and he's done everything in accordance with the guidance that he was given and gone well beyond what he ever needed to do.

OVERBY: The federal agency that handles the hotel's lease hasn't publicly addressed it since Trump took office. An agency spokeswoman said it had no comment today. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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