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Donald Trump

Trump claims immunity in law suit by Washington DC wine bar

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 May, 2017, 4:19am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 May, 2017, 4:19am

President Donald Trump’s lawyers say he can’t be sued for the magnetic effect his Washington hotel holds over a competitor’s customers.

“Absolute presidential immunity precludes personal liability based on the president’s office,” his attorneys said Wednesday in a Washington federal court filing seeking dismissal of a nearby wine bar’s unfair competition lawsuit.

The Cork Wine Bar sued the president in March, contending his high office compels foreigners, fund raisers and lobbyists who otherwise drank, dined and held events there to shift that business to the Trump International Hotel, which opened 1 1/2 miles (2.4 kilometres) away last year. The president’s ties to his establishment enable it to unfairly compete with Cork, even though Trump put control in a trust for his benefit, according to the complaint.

The defence filing is the latest salvo in a legal tussle about the boundary between the president’s public and personal business and whether -- and to what degree -- he can profit during his time in the White House.

Last month, 200 restaurants and a luxury hotel event booker joined a Manhattan federal court case contending the president’s business entanglements had put him in violation of the US Constitution’s foreign and domestic emoluments clauses. Those provisions bar the nation’s chief executive from accepting gifts from public officials foreign and domestic.

Cork, which is owned by political activist Khalid Pitts and former civil-rights lawyer Diane Gross, also claims any benefits flowing from the hotel to Trump places the president in violation of the federal General Services Administration lease for the premises, constructed within the city’s historic old post office.

Trump’s lawyers dispute Cork’s legal standing to make that claim. They also assert the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause shields their client from being regulated by the District of Columbia’s unfair-competition law.

Wine bar attorney Mark Zaid disagrees.

“Presidential immunity is not intended to allow individuals to escape liability for personal acts associated with private businesses,” he said in an email. “This case is about a neighbourhood restaurant being damaged by another business owner. The defendant’s status as president does not relieve him of responsibility.”