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Why two bar owners are suing Trump and his DC hotel

Khalid Pitts and Diane Gross, co-owners of Cork Wine Bar, are suing President Donald Trump over his financial interest in the restaurant at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. The lawsuit does not seek damages but wants an order that bars the hotel business from operating while Trump owns it, the Washington Post reported. (Bill O'Leary/Getty Images)

The owners of Cork Wine Bar are suing President Donald Trump and Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., alleging that his continued use of the property creates unfair competition.

According to the Washingtonian, Khalid Pitts and Diane Gross allege that Trump's continued affiliation with the hotel leaves other nearby restaurants at a disadvantage. The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Superior Court.

Their attorney, Scott Rome, said government officials, foreign dignitaries, lobbyists and others in the political world feel obligated or pressured to host events or dinners at Trump International Hotel as opposed to other businesses.

"If they have a party to book, they're going to book it [at the hotel] first, whether to gain influence with the president, to gain influence with the administration," Rome told the Washingtonian. "And [Trump] shows up there on weekends, so you get personal face time by going there. It seems to us to be a clear situation in which he's using his office of the president to get a financial gain at the expense of local businesses."

According to the Washingtonian, Cork Wine Bar has been the site of political fundraisers in the past but has had "significantly less income" since Trump's inauguration.

The Washington Post reported that the lawsuit does not include a specific example of a client lost to Trump.

"It’s just that there’s more business that could be going to them and it’s not," Rome said. "We feel like every place in town now is second place if you want to do business with the government in any way."

And Gross told the Post:

We have events we do here for elected officials, nonprofits, foreign dignitaries, the World Bank, law firms. Those folks are now being courted to come and want to go there because they see it as advantageous to them to curry favor with the president.

As Trump's influence and involvement in the hotel that bears his name while he's president has caused controversy, the lawsuit does not seek damages but wants an order that bars the hotel business from operating while Trump owns it, according to the Post.

Rome argued that the lawsuit was not specifically anti-Trump in nature.

"From my position, if a Democratic politician was hurting clients in this way, I would have the same response," he said.

However, as the Washingtonian noted, Cork Wine Bar's owners have political pasts. Gross is a former civil rights attorney who served as counsel to former Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.). And Pitts is a former campaign director for Service Employees International Union. He ran for D.C. Council as an independent in 2014.

The lawyers are working pro bono, and instead of seeking money, the lawsuit just aims to stop "unfair competition," the Washingtonian reported.

"This is a company town and the business is the government," Pitts told the Post. "We have people, individuals, companies in the U.S. and around the world who do business with the government. And the business leader of the government is the president of the United States."

BLT Prime, the Trump Hotel's restaurant, is owned by the hotel, which is why the restaurant is not specifically named as the defendant, according to the Washingtonian.

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