Donald Trump is president, but is he fit to run a bar?
A Washington, D.C., liquor board will consider that question Wednesday after a group of city residents complained that the owner of the Trump International Hotel fails the “good character” test required of anyone who wants to sell wine, beer or spirits in the city.
In their grievance to the city’s Alcohol Beverage Control Board, the group presented a litany of what they say are Trump’s moral failures, calling him a liar, a fraudster and a racist who associates with criminals.
The hotel, just blocks from the White House, opened in 2016 and has become a hangout for administration aides and Trump loyalists. The president himself, who does not drink, has appeared at major fundraisers there and his campaign has spent thousands of dollars on events. Foreign governments, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, are frequent patrons, too. In 2017 and 2018, Kuwait’s ambassador to the U.S. booked the hotel for galas to celebrate the anniversary of the country’s independence from British rule.
Yanking the hotel’s liquor license could put a serious dent in its events business, including weddings and fundraisers. The lobby’s popular Benjamin Bar and Lounge — mocked by locals for serving wine by the spoonful — is operated by steakhouse BLT Prime under a separate license that isn’t targeted by the current complaint. But both could be hit if the case goes forward, because they, like the hotel, have liquor licenses held by Trump Old Post Office LLC, which in turn is owned by the president.
It’s too soon to say if local leaders — all of them appointed by the city’s Democratic mayor — will revoke the license; the alcohol control board on Wednesday will decide whether to start that process by recommending a review. But the challenge is just the latest attempt at resistance in a city where Trump won only about 4 percent of the vote.
“The merits of the complaint are strong,” said Joshua Levy, a partner with law firm Cunningham Levy Muse who represents the residents. “The evidence of Mr. Trump’s bad character is strong.”
Trump Organization lawyer Alan Garten and BLT spokeswoman Rachel Wormser did not respond to requests for comment.
The control board has cited character flaws to deny liquor licenses in the past, including to applicants who have lied to investigators, misrepresented their finances or had run-ins with the law. But while it has sought to revoke licenses for violations such as serving underage customers, running the taps after hours and shoddy record-keeping, it’s unusual for the board to investigate an existing license on the basis of character.
The seven complainants against Trump include a federal judge, a former chair of the White House Council on Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships, and several religious leaders. Their effort is being funded by Jerry Hirsch, an Arizona Republican and chairman of the non-profit Make Integrity Great Again.
"Character and the rule of law comprise the foundation of our society, and yet both are under assault,” Hirsch said in a written statement. “This complaint is important because it is a test of both, at a critical time in American history."
Hirsch has commissioned polling from a strategy group led by former Barack Obama political operatives Julianna Smoot and Paul Tewes and hired public relations firm Ein Communications.
The initial complaint was filed in June and cited Trump’s alleged misstatements of his own net worth, his involvement in payments to Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about an alleged sexual encounter, complaints about his Trump University real estate program and reports that he frequently failed to pay contractors as evidence of his character flaws.
The complainants acknowledged that the alcohol board usually only does such “good character” investigations when an application is filed or a license is being renewed. But they said due to “egregious conduct,” the board “owes it to the public to investigate the owner’s lack of good character now.”
In a supplemental filing last week, the group cited as additional evidence of Trump’s wrongdoing a guilty plea entered by his former lawyer Michael Cohen admitting to criminal charges including campaign finance violations and a New York Times opinion piece written by an unnamed official who said members of the administration are actively working to curb what they see as the president’s worst impulses.
“Mr. Trump adds to the evidence of his lack of ‘good character’ daily,” the complainants wrote last week. “A senior member of the current administration made a stunning admission about Mr. Trump that stands at the heart of the complaint submitted to the board: ‘the root of the problem is his amorality.’”
“It’s not a political statement at all,” said the Rev. Timothy Tee Boddie, chief administrative officer of the Progressive National Baptist Convention and one of the complainants. “It focuses on the number of ethical and moral missteps this man has made as relates to his character, from the complaint that his own lawyer has confessed to, to the sleeping around with so many women, to his racist actions.”
“The list is almost too long to name.”
If the board finds merit to the complaint, it will be forwarded to the D.C. attorney general, who will decide whether to bring a civil action. If that happens, the attorney general and Trump hotel will make their cases at a hearing adjudicated by the alcohol board. The fate of the license ultimately lies with the board.
Trump can’t count on much sympathy from D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, who is suing Trump on constitutional grounds in another case involving the hotel. The lawsuit from Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh claims Trump has violated an anti-corruption provision in the Constitution, the emoluments clause, by doing business with and profiting from foreign governments.