By Julia Harte and Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Washington restaurant has sued U.S. President Donald Trump and the company that operates his landmark Washington hotel, claiming that patrons have shifted business there to curry favor with his new administration, the owners said on Thursday.
The suit, which was filed on Wednesday, does not seek monetary damages but wants Trump to divest from the hotel, resign or close it while he is president.
Diane Gross and Khalid Pitts, the husband-and-wife owners of the Cork Wine Bar, claim they and other businesses face unfair competition from the Trump International Hotel, which opened in September a few weeks before Trump was elected.
Their suit alleges Trump's ownership of the hotel, located a few blocks from the White House in the historic Old Post Office building owned by the federal government, violates a rule that bars elected officials from being party to the lease or benefiting from it.
"We simply want to level the playing field so that all District of Columbia restaurants can compete fairly," Pitts said at a news conference.
The hotel is among hundreds of businesses that could create unprecedented conflicts of interest for Trump, a New York real estate developer and reality television star who became president in January. He has said he avoided the conflict issue by transferring control of his businesses to some of his children.
In an email, Trump Organization attorney Alan Garten dismissed the lawsuit as "a publicity stunt completely lacking in legal merit."
Pitts and Gross said business had fallen off at their restaurant, located about a mile from the hotel, since Trump took office. They cited media reports that foreign dignitaries have "flocked" to the hotel and said many people had increased their use of the hotel and its restaurants to gain political favor.
They could not provide numbers or point to any specific client they had lost but said the hotel's increased business has occurred "to the detriment of Cork."
Congressional Democrats also have contended Trump's ownership of the hotel violates its lease with the General Services Administration (GSA), the federal property arm.
The GSA did not respond to a request for comment. In January, the agency said it was reviewing information from the Trump business that operates the hotel to assess its compliance with the lease.
Pitts and Gross said their lawsuit does not address whether Trump is violating the U.S. Constitution by letting his business accept payments from foreign governments, the central claim of a January suit filed by constitutional and ethics lawyers.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson and Julia Harte; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Bill Trott)