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DC restaurant owners sue over Trump hotel, alleging unfair competition

The new Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON — A D.C. restaurant is suing President Donald Trump, saying the Trump International Hotel, which sits just blocks from the White House, represents unfair competition for other businesses in the District.

The owners of Cork Wine Bar, in the Logan Circle area, filed the lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court this week against Trump and the company Trump Old Post Office LLC, which operates the hotel.

“This is a claim by a local business who is being competed with unfairly by another local business,” said attorney Scott Rome. “That other local business just happens to be owned by the president.”

Khalid Pitts and Diane Gross insist their suit was not politically motivated.

They say the hotel constitutes unfair competition because foreign dignitaries, members of Congress, business leaders and others who might want to curry favor with the president would clearly choose to spend money at the business affiliated with President Trump over other businesses in the area.

“We are driven to succeed by living and working in a vibrant, competitive business environment, but there is one business that is not playing fairly,” said Gross.

“President Trump’s name and presence give his hotel a big leg up,” added Pitts. “We have all seen the president and members of his team encourage people to go there using the power of his office.”

A website created by a team of lawyers representing Pitts and Gross claims Trump, as a sitting president, is “exploiting his position” in order to advance “his private business opportunities at the expense of all others operating in the city.” The lawyers, a group of business and government watchdog attorneys, say they are working for free.

“President Trump has not divested himself from ownership interest in the hotel and its restaurants,” reads a message on the site.

The restaurant owners are not asking for any money. They say they want a judge to rule that unfair competition has occurred and to demand that it be remedied through divestment or any other means that the court deems proper.

“We simply want to level the playing field,” said Pitts.

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, couldn’t immediately be reached.

Pitts is politically active, having run in 2014 as an independent for a seat on the D.C. Council. Prior to that race, he’d 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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