Restaurant group, D.C. event booker join emoluments suit against Trump


Two new plaintiffs — an association of restaurants and restaurant workers, and a woman who books banquet halls for two D.C. hotels — plan to join a lawsuit alleging that President Donald Trump has violated the Constitution's emoluments clause because his hotels and restaurants do business with foreign governments.  

The new plaintiffs will be added to the case on Tuesday morning, according to a spokesman for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group. 

 CREW had originally filed suit against Trump in federal court in January, alleging that — by continuing to own his business, which rents out hotel rooms and meeting spaces to other governments — Trump had violated the constitutional provision that bans "emoluments" from foreign powers.  

Legal experts had said that the case faced a serious hurdle: It wasn't clear that the watchdog group actually had standing to sue in the first place. What harm had it suffered, specifically, because of Trump's actions?  

The new plaintiffs are intended to offer an alternative answer to that question. Both say that, as direct competitors of Trump's restaurants and hotels, they may lose foreign clients, who may book with Trump properties to curry favor with the president.  

"It's damage to our members, both employers' bottom lines, and workers' loss of income and tips," said Saru Jayaraman, co-director of Restaurant Opportunity Centers United.  

That group — a nonprofit association that says its members include more than 25,000 restaurant workers, 200-plus restaurants and thousands of people who eat in restaurants — trains restaurant workers and advocates for higher wages. 

 The association was one of two plaintiffs added to the lawsuit Tuesday. Jayaraman could not cite a specific instance in which a member of the group had lost a client to a Trump business. 

 But she said the potential for such a development is clear. 

 "It's not a free market, or a free country, when foreign governments feel like they have to eat and patronize Trump hotels and restaurants because he's the president of the United States," Jayaraman said. "I mean, that's why the emoluments clause was written." 

 The other new plaintiff is Jill Phaneuf, who works for a hospitality company, booking events for two Washington hotels: the Carlyle Hotel near Dupont Circle and the Glover Park Hotel on Wisconsin Avenue NW. 

 The two hotels themselves are not joining the lawsuit, the watchdog group said. Jordan Libowitz, a CREW spokesman, said that Phaneuf is a contractor who is paid on commissions that are tied to the gross receipts of the events she books. She joined the suit as an individual. 

 "I joined this lawsuit because the president is taking business away from me and others with unfair business practices that violate the Constitution," Phaneuf said in a written statement. She declined to comment when asked if she could cite an example where a Trump hotel had taken her business away. 

 When The Washington Post asked the White House for comment, a spokeswoman directed the question to the Trump Organization. A Trump Organization spokeswoman said she could not comment before she had seen a copy of the new filing. 

 The aim of the lawsuit is the same as before. The plaintiffs ask U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams in New York to order Trump to stop violating the emoluments clause, and to release financial records to prove it. 

 The Constitution says that no person holding a federal office shall "accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State." It was inspired by fears that early American ambassadors might be corrupted by gifts from the countries where they were serving. 

 The plaintiffs in this case say that, by the same logic, Trump's loyalties might be bent by foreign governments paying for the hotel rooms and office space he owns. 

 "This is 'MOAC.' The mother of all conflicts," said Norm Eisen, a former ethics official in the Obama administration and a board member of CREW. "This is the one thing that we have in our power to do" to stop it, he said. 

 In the past, Trump's attorneys have said that the term "emolument" should not apply to transactions where foreign governments pay market rates for hotel rooms or banquet halls.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

State attorneys general ask FCC to delay net neutrality vote
State attorneys general ask FCC to delay net neutrality vote

The attorneys general of nearly 20 states asked the Federal Communications Commission to delay a vote on changing the country’s net neutrality rules as they investigate reports that impersonators posted hundreds of thousands of fake comments on the commission’s notice of the proposed change. “If the well of public comment has been...
Local GOP leaders: Democrats shouldn’t read much into Roy Moore’s loss
Local GOP leaders: Democrats shouldn’t read much into Roy Moore’s loss

Democrats locally and nationally should not be quick to discern a political sea change in Tuesday night’s Alabama U.S. Senate election, current and former leaders of Palm Beach County’s Republican Party said Wednesday. In the vote to replace U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, now the U.S. Attorney General, in what traditionally is a deep-red southern...
#ThankYouAlabama: Doug Jones wins Senate seat over Roy Moore, Twitter celebrates
#ThankYouAlabama: Doug Jones wins Senate seat over Roy Moore, Twitter celebrates

News that Alabama voters chose Tuesday to send Democrat Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate over embattled Republican Roy Moore was greeted with relief and joy on social media. Moore was considered a favorite to take the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions early in the race, but his grip on the position slipped amid a flurry of sexual misconduct...
Omarosa to leave White House post
Omarosa to leave White House post

Omarosa Manigault Newman, the “Apprentice” star turned White House aide, will leave from her position in President Donald Trump’s administration next month, officials confirmed Wednesday. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Manigault Newman’s resignation will be effective Jan. 20, the one-year anniversary...
Roy Moore thought his stance on abortion would lead him to victory. It didn’t.
Roy Moore thought his stance on abortion would lead him to victory. It didn’t.

Roy Moore's campaign had one weapon that seemed to offer his supporters a counterweight to the allegations that he had pursued teenaged girls when he was in his 30s: abortion.  In the run-up to Tuesday's special election for U.S. Senate, the Alabama Republican denied any improper sexual behavior, but also went on the offensive against Democrat...
More Stories