DC Hearing Set Sept. 12 On Trump Compliance With 'Good Character' Liquor License Rule


djt tump int hotel

The Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington, DC is shown above during its 2016 renovation (Justice Integrity Project photo).

A District of Columbia regulatory board is scheduled to hear a challenge on Wednesday to President Trump's 'good character' and thus to the Trump Organization's continued ability under local law to serve liquor in the Trump International Hotel, which is based in the historic Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House.

Five District religious figures and two retired judges filed a complaint in June before the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) that Trump failed to meet the law's requirement of "good character" that is necessary to hold a license via the Trump Organization management of the facility under its 99-year-lease. The complaint cited, among other things, claims that Trump was a “habitual liar” and accused sex offender who reportedly paid $25 million to settle claims of fraud against Trump University.

michael cohen ap file croppedA third amended complaint this month by the group's attorney Joshua Levy (available here) cited the recent guilty plea by Trump's longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen, shown at left, to federal charges in which authorities named another person widely reported to be Trump as an "unindicted co-conspirator" with Cohen in hush money payments to cover up sex scandals.

Trump's representatives have denied any violation and called for dismissal of the action. Regulators on ABRA are scheduled to weigh the evidence on Sept. 12 as part of a day-long hearing on other alleged violations by liquor license holders in the District.

karl racineLevy told the Huffington Post's Mary Papenfuss for a report Sept. 7 that he expects a decision this week about whether the body will forward the complaint to the District's Attorney General Karl Racine, shown at right, for further action.

Update: ABRA dismissed the action on Sept. 12, as reported by DC keeps Trump's liquor license intact, with the view that licenses cannot be reviewed on an interim basis. Challenges vowed to persist.

Separately in July, a federal court authorized Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh to proceed in evidence gathering for their lawsuit against Trump arguing that he violates the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. That clause forbids federal officeholders from receiving financial or material benefits from foreign governments or domestic government bodies.

Their lawsuit, with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) as co-counsel, notes that foreign officials and entities have rented facilities at the Trump International Hotel. Racine issued a statement following his side's interim victory.

Our Justice Integrity Project has followed such litigation closely because it provides rare potential for accountability for widespread reports of corruption and other law-breaking by Trump, his companies and associates through the decades.

The late superlawyer Roy Cohn, Trump's attorney and mentor, also represented leaders of at least three of New York City's five Mafia families, as indicated by the Wikipedia collage below and by numerous books and articles about the mob's instrumental role in Trump's real estate and gambling holdings.

djt roy cohn mob clients carmine galante john gotti tony salerno1533348924301

david cay johnston headshotTrump biographer David Cay Johnston, left, wrote in The Making of Donald Trump, Johnston's second biography of the tycoon, that New Jersey's Division of Gaming Enforcement remained "willfully blind" to Trump's many regulatory violations, unpaid bills and phony claims that he was a billionaire.

Johnston published one investigation of Trump's finances for the Philadelphia Inquirer headlined "Bankers Say Trump May Be Worth Less than Zero."

Johnston, who went on to report for the New York Times, closely covered Trump's Atlantic City casinos and mob associates as an indicator of the businessman's character. Atlantic City, crime and lax enforcement was the perfect environment, Johnston wrote, "for a Trump."

Fast Forward To Today

The recent filing against Trump on Sept. 6 is a hard-hitting attack that cites, among other things, Trump's  “misleading statements regarding his son Donald Trump, Jr.’s June 2016 meeting” at Trump Tower with a Kremlin-connected attorney to get “dirt” against Hillary Clinton, as the Huffington Post reported last week. “This new evidence of criminal conduct," the filing states, "further supports Mr. Trump’s lack of good character.”

“The president is not above the law,” attorney Joshua Levy told HuffPost. “There’s no excuse or exception, even for the president of the United States.”

Levy said the owner of another business was recently denied a liquor license because of a “pattern of dishonesty.”

The meeting to hear the issues will be at ABRA offices at 2000 14th Street, NW. ABRA is chaired by Donovan Anderson. He is an appointee of Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, as are fellow ABRA regulators Nick Alberti, Mike Silverstein, James Short, Donald Isaac Sr., Rema Wahabzadah, and Bobby Cato, Jr. The agenda is here.

It will not be easy, no matter what the evidence, to prove a case against an incumbent president backed by a Republican majority in Congress. That's especially true when Congress controls many of the financial and other decisions of the District of Columbia. The District is a federal enclave without statehood or elected representatives possessing meaningful voting power in Congress.

Therefore, many elected leaders and their appointees can be expected to avoid antagonizing Republicans on this kind of issue even though only four percent of District voters supported Trump in the 2016 presidential election.   

Because of a timid and secretive approach to Trump probes by Congress, especially by House leadership, the ABRA proceeding provides a rare forum outside of the largely secret and possibly endangered probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller III to collect evidence about varied attacks on Trump's character.

Our project has done something similar with a feature called "Trump Watch" that is updated on a nearly daily basis here.

Yet any collection of news articles and commentaries, or even books, falls short of the unique characteristics of an official proceeding that carries potential sanctions, even a proceeding  at a local level such as that in the nation's capital on Sept. 12 described here.

New Evidence, New Challenges

Working with some of the nation's leading reporters regarding sex trafficking, we have reported (in partnership especially with investigative reporter and former Navy intelligence officer Wayne Madsen) on alleged rapes by Trump and his friend Jeffrey Epstein of underage teens.

Madsen has separately published a chart showing relationships between some three thousand entities and individuals linked, sometimes in allegedly suspicious fashion, to Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner's family, sometime business partner Felix Sater and Paul Manafort, the latter a 2016 Trump campaign manager recently convicted of eight federal counts pertaining to tax fraud and related crimes preceding for the most part Manafort's 2016 campaign work. Manafort is reportedly in plea negotiations in advance of his second trial, which focuses more on his foreign relationships during his work on the 2016 campaign.

david cay johnson trump book coverBecause the issue for Trump in the liquor license proceeding is "character," both that of Trump and that of regulators and other law enforcers, we conclude this column with a relevant passage in the epilogue of Johnston's book  The Making of Donald Trump, published in August 2016 and described in a lecture this editor covered at the National Press Club shortly after publication.

Brevity and a focus on Trump's character were the guiding principles for Johnston, he said in describing how he sought to portray Trump in a manner understandable to American voters yet based on the vast array of documents and other reporting that Johnston had accumulated in some three decades scrutinizing Trump.

"We can never truly know his character," Johnston continued, "but we can examine and assess it based on his actions."

Johnston, a former chair of the  training group Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), wrote further:

This is why I have focused on Donald Trump's obsession with money and the trappings of wealth, as well as his many comments about women not as equals, but objects, their value measured in particular by the size of their busts and the length of their legs.

That is also why so much of this book is about Trump's many complex and little-known relationships with criminals -- a vast assortment of con artists, swindlers, mobsters and mob associates, a major drug trafficker he went to bat for, and other unsavory characters....

As these pages make clear, Trump's relationships with criminals were often profitable, sometimes gratuitous, and never properly examined by those whose duty was to investigate."

Contact the author This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Related News Coverage

Sept. 12

CNN via ABC KMIZ / Fox KQFX (Missouri), DC keeps Trump's liquor license intact, Eli Watkins, Sept. 12, 2018. Washington's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board met on Wednesday to consider a review into whether President Donald Trump has the character to sell alcohol in the nation's capital.

In a terse announcement Wednesday afternoon, the board said its interpretation of local law made them opt not to act at this time, allowing Trump's DC properties to continue as they are.

Wednesday's meeting came in response to a June complaint from a group called Make Integrity Great Again, which has seized upon DC regulations to assert Trump is not of "good character" and therefore should not be able to sell alcoholic beverages at the Trump International Hotel, located blocks away from the White House.

"The board does not agree with the assumption that a character and fitness review may be initiated at any time," the board announced.

The complainants filed a series of supplements ahead of Wednesday's meeting, including an additional filing earlier this month citing the recent guilty plea of Trump's former personal attorney and confidant Michael Cohen.

Joshua Levy, a lawyer behind the effort, told CNN ahead of Wednesday's hearings that he believed their evidence was "overwhelming" and dismissed the idea that the case was not worth bringing.

"There's nothing petty about the enforcement of the law," Levy said.

After the board's announcement on Wednesday, Levy said "the board has made a mistake" and vowed the complainants would try to press the board again in the coming days to reconsider.

The board noted, however, that all hotel liquor license holders in DC must apply for renewal by the end of March next year.

The hotel, located in the Old Post Office building in Washington, has been the subject of patronage from Trump allies and official visitors to Washington as well as protest and legal scrutiny from his opponents.

The board's chairperson, Donovan Anderson, said in a statement that the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration inspected the hotel as part of its review process following the complaint and found "an alleged sale-to-minor violation" scheduled to be on the board's agenda later this month.

Max Bluestein, a spokesman for the alcoholic beverage administration, told CNN that while the allegation could lead to a warning or fine after review, it would not lead to the revocation of the hotel's license.

washington post logoWashington Post, Liquor board declines to act on Trump’s liquor license after residents complain about his character, Rachel Chason, Sept. 12, 2018. An effort by a group of D.C. residents to strip Trump International Hotel of its liquor license by arguing its owner — the president — is not of “good character” hit a roadblock Wednesday when the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board declined to review the case.

The board cited a technicality, noting that the character of liquor license owners is not reviewed at will, but when liquor licenses are issued, transferred or renewed. The five board members present Wednesday did not rule on the substance of the complaint, which suggests that President Trump is violating the D.C. law that states license applicants must be of “good character and generally fit for the responsibilities of licensure.”

“It is important to note that all hotel liquor license owners in the District of Columbia are required to apply for a renewal of their license by March 31, 2019,” Chair Donovan Anderson said following his decision, opening the possibility that the residents could file their complaint again next year.

But Joshua Levy, the attorney who filed the complaint on behalf of seven residents — three ministers, two retired judges and two rabbis — said the group does not plan to wait until next year and will submit a filing asking the board to reconsider its decision.

“The facts are so compelling right now,” Levy said after the ruling. “The board has a duty to act right now.”

Anderson said the board conducted a regulatory inspection of the Trump hotel following the complaint and found one alleged sale to a minor, which Anderson said does not have bearing on the good character complaint but will be reviewed by the board later this month.

The group behind the complaint, called “Make Integrity Great Again,” is backed by Jerry Hirsch, an Arizona Republican who practiced law and ran real estate and technology companies before becoming a philanthropist. Hirsch said in a statement Wednesday that he found it puzzling that the board decided the complaint on a technicality.

Sept. 7

HuffPost, More ‘Bad Character’ Examples Added To Trump’s DC Liquor License Challenge, Mary Papenfuss, Sept. 7, 2018. The president needs to be “of good character” if he wants to hold on to his liquor license for Trump International Hotel.

A unique challenge by District of Columbia citizens to President Donald Trump’s liquor license has been updated to list even more examples of his alleged “bad character” that could threaten the president’s continued ability to have alcohol served at his Trump International Hotel.

New accusations concerning Trump’s character include revelations by the president’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen in court that Trump ordered him to make payments during the presidential campaign to cover up information about alleged affairs. Trump later acknowledged that the payments came from him. That means Trump “likely committed serious violations of the campaign finance laws,” according to supplemental documents added Thursday to the original challenge.

By law, if the “true and actual owner of the establishment” serving alcohol is not “of good character,” the liquor license can be suspended or revoked by the local Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

Trump has “continued to own, control and prosper from hundreds of businesses around the world. By accepting benefits from foreign and domestic government actors, the president is opening himself up to the type of foreign influence and corruption that the Constitution seeks to prevent,” said a statement from Racine’s office.

Aug. 2

abc news logoABC News, Last call? Prominent locals want Trump's DC hotel to lose liquor license, Ali Dukakis, Aug. 2, 2018. A local regulatory agency is nearing a decision on whether to recommend a review of Trump International Hotel’s liquor license after seven D.C. residents filed a complaint arguing the hotel’s owner, President Donald Trump, is “not of good character.”

The law governing liquor licenses in D.C. states that in order to acquire and maintain a liquor license in the city, the owner of the bar or restaurant is required to be “of good character,” and two retired judges and five local religious leaders say the president doesn’t measure up.

“President Trump is not above the law,” said Joshua A. Levy, a lawyer for the D.C. residents who filed the complaint to the Washington D.C. Alcohol Beverage Control Board in June. “In D.C., the law requires an owner of a liquor license to be of ‘good character,’ and Mr. Trump is not. He should transfer the ownership to someone who can comply with the law or show cause why his license should not be revoked.”

The president’s supporters and officials within the Trump Organization, which manages the hotel property, are crying foul, dismissing the effort as a political cheap shot.

“This is not about the neighborhood, not about the common good and certainly not about the law," Alan Garten, general counsel of the Trump Organization, told ABC News in a statement Wednesday. "This is politics at its worst and an obvious effort to misuse the power of government to advance a political agenda.”

“The complaint is currently with ABRA’s Enforcement Division, where it is still under review,” agency spokesman Max Bluestein said. The “good character” provision is typically invoked when a liquor license is up for transfer or renewal, Bluestein told ABC News, but the complaint against the Trump International Hotel pertains an active liquor license that is not up for renewal until March 2019.

In bringing the complaint, the D.C. residents – Judge Joan Goldfrank, Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr., Rev. William Lamar IV, Rev. Jennifer Butler, Rev. Dr. Timothy Tee Boddie, Rabbi Jack Moline and Rabbi Aaron Potek – cited that Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle fraud claims arising from the now-defunct Trump University and that multiple contractors who have worked for Trump have filed suit against him claiming they were never paid.

July 26

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Trump’s Emoluments Trap, Karl A. Racine, Brian E. Frosh and Norman L. Eisen, July 26, 2018. Mr. Racine is the attorney general for the District of Columbia. Mr. Frosh is the attorney general for Maryland. Mr. Eisen is the chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Wednesday’s ruling on our suit against the president makes clear that he may be violating the Constitution.

On Wednesday, a federal district court made history. Judge Peter J. Messitte of Maryland allowed a lawsuit to move forward against President Trump, alleging that he is violating the Constitution by continuing to do business with foreign and domestic governments. In doing so, he became the first federal judge ever to rule on the meaning of the word “emolument” in the Constitution.

Coverage of the lawsuit, which was brought by two of us (with the third, Mr. Eisen, among the co-counsels), has sometimes cast doubt on the usefulness of the Emoluments Clauses, which we have argued forbid presidents from using their office to “profit, gain or advantage.” Critics have noted how rarely they have been deployed. That’s why Judge Messitte’s ruling is so important: It opens a path to enforcement of the ethics regime that the framers developed as a bulwark against corruption in the highest office in the land.

washington post logoWashington Post, Once a ‘punching bag,’ Cohen takes a swing at Trump, Philip Rucker, Carol D. Leonnig, Tom Hamburger and Ashley Parker, July 26, 2018. The actions of President Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen appear to be driven more by his outrage over Trump’s indifference and feelings of betrayal than by a legal strategy to help his case.

michael cohen ap file croppedFor the past decade, Michael Cohen, shown at right, worked as Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer. He was an eager supplicant, executing the wishes of his celebrity boss and forever seeking his attaboy affection. He said he would take a bullet for Trump, and, even after the president passed him over for a White House job, Cohen still professed his eternal loyalty.

But in Trump’s world, eternity has limits.

By releasing audio of his covertly recorded conversation with Trump about purchasing the rights to a Playboy centerfold’s story of an extramarital affair, Cohen made a decisive break from his longtime client. The move punctuates the steady deterioration of a relationship between Cohen and Trump and raises concerns in the White House that the former could spill secrets about the latter to the FBI.

July 25

washington post logoWashington Post, Federal judge allows emoluments case against Trump to proceed, Ann E. Marimow, Jonathan O'Connell and David A. Fahrenthold, July 25, 2018. A federal judge on Wednesday rejected President Trump’s latest effort to stop a lawsuit that alleges Trump is violating the Constitution by continuing to do business with foreign governments.

peter messeti american universityThe ruling, from U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte, right, in Greenbelt, Md., will allow the plaintiffs in the case — the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia — to proceed with their case, which says Trump has violated the Constitution’s little-used emoluments clause.

The plaintiffs now want to interview Trump Organization employees and search company records to determine which foreign countries have spent money at Trump’s hotel in downtown Washington.

The Justice Department and Trump’s attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment. They could try to appeal the decision to a higher court and ask Messitte not to allow the attorneys general access to Trump Organization employees and books until the appeal is decided.


david cay johnson npc 8 4 2016 jip img 0114 SmallDavid Cay Johnston during book lecture at the National Press Club on Aug. 4, 2016 (Justice Integrity Project photo)

Justice Integrity Project, Noted Biographers Denounce Trump, Andrew Kreig, Aug. 4, 2016. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Cay Johnston last week became the latest of Donald Trump’s biographers to denounce him and his presidential campaign.

“He’s a con man,” Johnston told a National Press Club audience Aug. 4 in describing his new book The Making of Donald Trump.

Worse, said Johnston (shown in a Justice Integrity Project photo during his talk), Trump is the product of unusually corrupt or otherwise disturbing relationships.

djt roy cohnThese include Trump's KKK-supporting father, the ruthless late superlawyer Roy Cohn (shown with Trump in a file photo), plus powerful leaders in the Gambino, Bonanno and Genovese Mafia families, as well as oligarchs surrounding Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“If people want to elect Donald Trump after they read my book, then they should vote for him, but they should know who they are voting for,” said Johnston, who said he met Trump 28 years ago.

“They are voting for a man that doesn’t know anything about anything," Johnston continued, "who bluffs his way through everything, who has one skill and that is how to make deals that bring cash to him to support the lifestyle that creates the appearance of being a billionaire, and who has no regard for his fellow man.”

donald trump cover art of the dealJohnston thus joins The Art of the Deal co-author Tony Schwartz in bashing Trump in harsh terms. Schwartz has been saying in recent weeks that the 1987 book that made Trump famous should have been entitled The Sociopath because Trump is too greedy and deranged to merit the presidency.

Schwartz, told the New Yorker in an exclusive interview with Jane Mayer published July 18 that the thought of a Trump presidency is “terrifying.”

“I genuinely believe," Schwartz said, "that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes, there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

MSNBC "Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough separately added a similar concern, as reported Aug. 2 by the Huffington Post in, Joe Scarborough: Donald Trump Repeatedly Asked Why We Couldn’t Use Nukes.