Suing Trump on ethics? Good luck making your case

In the latest challenge, Cork Wine Bar targets Trump’s D.C. hotel for unfair competition.

A lot of people — New York’s attorney general, law professors, Washington restaurant owners — think President Donald Trump is breaking laws by holding onto his businesses. The trouble is, a month and a half into his presidency, they’re still searching for a successful courtroom strategy to force him to divest.

The president isn’t bound by the main federal law against conflicts of interest. But legal experts have argued since Trump won the election that he’s violating the constitutional ban on accepting payments from a foreign government — known as the Emoluments Clause — and is putting federal agencies under his control in the impossible position of having to supervise his businesses.

The most glaring example is the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House, which is housed in a building that Trump’s company, now overseen by his older sons, leases from the General Services Administration.

But while the legal problems may be obvious, the responses are not. It’s an area of law that’s never before been tested — because there has never before been a billionaire president intent on maintaining his commercial ties while in office.

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“It is so far beyond the bounds of anything that anyone has ever attempted that people are having trouble coming up with a clear legal strategy to address it,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said last week. He sued Trump in 2013 over fraud claims against his for-profit Trump University, reaching a proposed settlement last year.

The latest front in the legal onslaught opened on Thursday from Khalid Pitts and Diane Gross, the husband-and-wife owners of Washington’s Cork Wine Bar, who claim their popular and award-winning restaurant faces unfair competition from Trump’s nearby hotel. They’re asking a D.C. judge to order Trump to stop the unfair competition, which could be achieved by making Trump sell the hotel, shut it down or resign the presidency.


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