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Citing Trump’s ‘character,’ D.C. residents challenge city to revoke his hotel’s liquor license

The Trump International Hotel at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave., NW. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

It’s a saga made for our time — and it may be a little closer to resolution (or not, as protracted political drama is also very much of our time).

Last year, a group of concerned citizens in Washington wrote the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to protest the renewal of a liquor license for President Trump’s downtown property, the Trump International Hotel.

The reason: D.C. law states that license applicants must be of “good character and generally fit for the responsibilities of licensure.”

President Trump does not satisfy those requirements, the group argued.

But the board ultimately declined to take up the case because the group of District residents filed their petition after the Trump hotel had already been granted its liquor license.

In the spring, the protesting group of eight clergy and judges, many of whom are D.C. residents, decided to refile their petition — this time when the Trump hotel’s liquor license was up for renewal before the ABC board.

“Donald Trump, the true and actual owner of the Trump International Hotel, is not a person of good character,” the residents wrote in their complaint, citing in detail what they characterize as “certain lies he has told, his involvement in relevant fraudulent and other activity demonstrating his lack of integrity, and his refusal to abide by the law or to stop associating with known criminals.”

Lawyers for the hotel appealed and asked the board to dismiss the case on technical grounds.

But this time, the board denied the hotel’s request — and this week issued a ruling that clears the way for the complaint to move to mediation or a hearing before the board.

Read the ABC Board's order here.

“We’re excited that we’re closer to a hearing on the merits,” said D.C. lawyer Joshua Levy, who is representing the group of protesters.

“The ruling is a victory for the rule of law,” Levy said. “The board correctly rejected Trump’s attempt to silence the public and be held above the law. In the District of Columbia, no one is above the law.”

A representative from the Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Attorneys for the hotel had argued in their appeal that the protest petition was not legitimate because the group had not appealed on the basis of “appropriateness,” rather citing D.C. official code.

In the board’s ruling dated June 12, it argued that the group’s protest was legitimate because those seeking a liquor license renewal are required by D.C. law to demonstrate — to the board’s satisfaction — that they are of “good character.”

The board wrote that the Trump representatives’ “interpretation contradicts the intent of the legislature, which considered character challenges a fundamental part of the District’s alcohol laws.”

The board also dismissed the assertion made by Trump’s lawyers that the group could not legally challenge the president in his individual capacity as owner, rather than those whose names appear directly on the license application. The board cited a previous ruling and wrote that it has consistently held that “the mere creation of a corporate entity does not shield the individuals holding an interest in a corporation or limited liability company from having their records as owners scrutinized by the Board.”

The board granted partial summary judgment to Trump on the issue of whether the protesting group can retroactively add “appropriateness factors” to their petition, such as whether the alleged behavior of the applicant might cause “crime, violence, or accidents in the future.”

The board ruled that it would not hold any further hearings on the “good character” challenge until the protesting residents disclosed their addresses to the Trump representatives. Only D.C. residents and property owners may issue a protest by group, and all parties have the right to ensure that statute is being followed in this case, the board wrote.

Each party has 10 days to contest the board’s decision issued this week.

If there are no further challenges, the board will move to set dates for mediation. If that does not resolve the complaint, the case could move to a hearing before the alcohol board.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the group of people who filed the complaint were members of a neighborhood association.

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