Eric Goode, a New York Night-Life Impresario, Takes on Trump

Back to the Constitution. The foreign Emoluments Clause prohibits federal officials from accepting payment from foreign governments without the consent of Congress. It was written in the day when the founding fathers worried about kings trying to buy the favor of officials, and about such employees trying to make money off their positions.

It hasn’t been talked about much in the past 200 years. But because Mr. Trump maintains an ownership stake in the Trump Organization, with vast hotel, residential and commercial real estate holdings that foreign governments can direct business to, emoluments are once again a flash point.

The White House directed requests for comment about the suit to the Trump Organization, where a spokeswoman did not respond to emails.


Robin Bell, an artist, projected a message on the facade of the Trump International Hotel in Washington in May.

Liz Gorman

Sheri Dillon, a lawyer who represents the Trump Organization, has disputed that the Emoluments Clause applies to hotel rooms being rented by representatives of foreign governments, arguing that payments based on market rates for services do not represent an emolument. But in a news conference held just before Mr. Trump’s inauguration, she said that the company would donate profits derived from foreign-governments to the Treasury.

Mr. Goode, whose hotels have catered to foreign dignitaries, isn’t buying that argument. “You can’t say you are going to donate the money from foreign dignitaries because it’s their collective entourages. How can you even quantify that?” he said. “The notion that the presidency doesn’t benefit your business is really absurd.”

Of particular interest is the Trump International Hotel in Washington. The Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, for example, held a party there in February, according to NPR. And Politico has reported that a lobbying firm working for Saudi Arabia paid for a room at the hotel after Inauguration Day.

Last month, a Washington artist named Robin Bell managed to project the words “Pay Trump Bribes Here” onto the hotel’s facade. Mr. Goode had no hand in this, he said, but it tickled him. “I love it,” he said. “Reminds me a little of what Louie Psihoyos does.”

The emoluments lawsuit was originally filed on Jan. 23 by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal government watchdog group whose board includes constitutional scholars and former White House ethics lawyers.

Some have argued, however, that the organization, known as CREW, lacked standing to file the case, saying that it is not sufficiently injured.

CREW disputes that it lacks standing. But it went looking for additional plaintiffs, which was not an easy sell. “We spoke to a number of hotel owners. Eric was the only appropriate hotel owner willing to join the suit,” said Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for CREW.

Suing the president “is a difficult decision for any person to make,” said Noah Bookbinder, the group’s executive director.

In April, the suit was updated to add as plaintiffs Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a union that represents restaurant workers and owners, as well as Jill Phaneuf, an event-booker for the Glover Park Hotel, which is near embassies in Washington.

Then it landed Mr. Goode. “We really respect someone who is willing to stand on principle and take that plunge,” Mr. Bookbinder said.

Laurence H. Tribe, a constitutional scholar who is among the lawyers representing CREW, said the addition of Mr. Goode helped buttress the suit’s legitimacy. “It makes it inconceivable that this lawsuit would be tossed out,” he said, offering a bit wishful thinking, as the Justice Department, which is representing Mr. Trump, will almost certainly try to move at some point to have the case dismissed. Then Mr. Tribe’s legal theory will really be tested.

The lawsuit argues that Mr. Goode cannot compete in attracting hotel guests and diners representing foreign governments who believe they may gain favor with Mr. Trump by staying at his establishments. “As a hotel and restaurant owner, Mr. Goode will be harmed due to a loss of revenue by defendant’s ongoing financial interest in businesses which receive payments from foreign states, the United States, or state or local government.”

The lawsuit also lays out the popularity of Mr. Goode’s hotels and restaurants by quoting news articles including “Where the Beckhams and Kardashians Really Stay,” published by The Daily Mail. “I think this is the first-ever suit we’ve filed that involves the Kardashians,” Mr. Libowitz said.

The CREW lawsuit would be stronger if more hoteliers had joined, said Mr. Goode, who asked colleagues to take part. But there were no takers.

“You’d be surprised how incestuous the real estate business is in New York,” he said, “and how many people have deals with the Kushners and the Trumps and may fear retribution.”

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