President Trump could set an example by expanding his dining options in the District.
President Trump’s lawyer dismissively calls a lawsuit filed by the Cork Wine Bar alleging unfair competition from the restaurants in the Trump family’s D.C. hotel a “wild publicity stunt.” That is high praise considering the source.
While the merits of this case are to be determined in court, where the president has not fared so well recently, the case itself raises, at a minimum, a serious larger question about setting a good ethical example: Why does the White House consistently try to excuse questionable conduct and argue that the president and his staff are not subject to the ethics rules against conflicts of interest and self-dealing that are applicable to everyone else in the government? In the United States, we revere principle; and courts consistently rule that no one is above the law — not Richard Nixon, not Bill Clinton, not Donald Trump.
The president and his staff should be trying to set the best example of ethical, virtuous conduct. Instead, the White House relies on gray areas, loopholes, pretense and sheer chutzpah to thumb its nose derisively at the rule of law again.
It really eats at me to see Trump and his entourage dining on official business at restaurants in places he still owns, such as the Mar-a-Largo resort in Florida and his Pennsylvania Avenue hotel here. These are not the best places to conduct sensitive affairs of state with foreign dignitaries, but they are excellent for promoting the brand.
Coincidence? I think not. It is tolerated with a wink and a nod when press secretary Sean Spicer encourages people to try out the Trump hotel and Kellyanne Conway promotes the president’s daughter’s merchandise. It is not a stretch to imagine that all those contacts between the Trump team with Russians before and after the election might have had self-serving financial interests at stake; that is a topic to add to the congressional investigation the president requested.
What a shame, and it is all unnecessary.
For starters, the president would be well-advised to venture outside of Trump Inc. when dining out and entertaining. It would be no sacrifice to choose among the wide array of options right across from the White House, including Ashok Bajaj’s amazing Bombay Club; the topdrawer culinary experiences bracketing Trump’s hotel that run the length of Pennsylvania Avenue and nearby streets, such as Occidental, Del Frisco’s, Central Michel Richard, Tadich Grill, 701 and Rasika; nearby steakhouses such as the Capital Grille and Charlie Palmer Steak DC; old-school favorites such as the Palm, Morton’s and La Chaumiere; and more quotidian delights such as Ben’s Chili Bowl, Martin’s Tavern, Ted’s Bulletin, Pines of Rome and the Maine Avenue waterfront cornucopia of seafood. He could even enjoy some barbecue from Boog Powell’s at Nationals Park after throwing the first pitch.
Making the effort to set an ethical example matters more than a hill of beans. It is a healthy menu for earning the trust and respect of the American people.