Restaurants and hotels in which President Donald Trump has financial interests are unfairly siphoning business away from competitors in New York and Washington, D.C., the new plaintiffs in a watchdog group’s emoluments suit against Trump allege.
The new plaintiffs may help Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which filed an amended complaint on Tuesday adding Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and a woman who books embassy events for two Washington hotels, bolster its case for standing in the suit.
Deepak Gupta of Gupta Wessler, a member of CREW’s legal team, said the new plaintiffs make the plaintiffs’ standing in the case “irrefutable.”
“If there were any questions before as to whether we have standing, those questions should be put to rest,” Gupta said.
Indeed, there were questions about standing when CREW first filed its lawsuit on Jan. 23—just three days after Trump’s inauguration—in the Southern District of New York.
CREW claimed that Trump was in violation of both the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses of the Constitution because of leases held by foreign governments for space in Trump Tower; diplomats booking rooms in Trump’s Washington hotel; and payments from foreign television stations for reruns of the “The Apprentice,” as well as spinoff programs in foreign markets.
CREW was the sole plaintiff at the time and it was injured, it claimed, by having to file the lawsuit itself because it forced the group to divert resources from its other activities.
The argument fostered doubt among some in the legal community who felt CREW—whose legal team in the suit includes Irvine School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe and Fordham University School of Law professor Zephyr Teachout—didn’t have a leg to stand on.
“The original claim was weak,” said Victoria Nourse, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center who served as a senior adviser to former Vice President Joseph Biden when he chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Nourse said the amended complaint contains claims for injury-in-fact, which she said makes the new claims “much stronger.”
“Losing money is always a good enough injury,” she said.
In the amended complaint, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United says that its COLORS restaurant, located in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, is in competition with restaurants at hotels and properties in which Trump has a financial stake. Diners at the restaurant include foreign officials, the group claims.
ROC United says the competition includes Jean-Georges at Nougatine at the Trump International Hotel & Tower, located on Columbus Circle; Koi SoHo at Trump SoHo New York; Trump Grill at Trump Tower; and the World Bar at Trump World Tower, a residential building in Midtown East.
Additionally, ROC United says it plans to open a new restaurant in Washington.
Jill Phaneuf, who books embassy events for hotels Kimpton Carlyle Hotel and the Glover Park Hotel, both located on Washington’s Embassy Row, says that foreign diplomats are checking out rooms at the Trump International Hotel rather than staying with competitors.
Gupta said that CREW remains a plaintiff in the suit and that the plaintiffs’ legal team feels “good about all three bases of standing.” “This is a lawsuit about the president and whether he is complying with the Constitution,” Gupta said.
The case, CREW v. Trump, 17-cv-458, is assigned to Southern District Judge Ronnie Abrams.
In addition to Gupta, CREW’s legal team includes fellow Gupta Wessler attorney Matthew Spurlock; and Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll partners Joseph Sellers and Daniel Small and associate Robert Braun.
Jean Lin of the Justice Department’s civil division has been assigned to the case to represent the president. The department declined to comment, citing pending litigation.