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Trump Deposed For 90 Minutes In Civil Case Involving Chef José Andrés

Donald Trump is in a legal battle with celebrity chef José Andrés, who pulled out of a plan to open a restaurant at the Trump International Hotel, built inside the historic Old Post Office in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla
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Donald Trump is in a legal battle with celebrity chef José Andrés, who pulled out of a plan to open a restaurant at the Trump International Hotel, built inside the historic Old Post Office in Washington, D.C.

President-elect Donald Trump sat for a deposition on Thursday in a civil lawsuit related to his hotel in the Old Post Office building in Washington, D.C., Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks confirmed to NPR via email. Even as Trump prepares to assume the presidency, he continues to have entanglements related to his wide-ranging business dealings.

A source close to the case confirms the videotaped deposition took place at Trump Tower in New York and lasted 90 minutes. The $10 million civil lawsuit, for breach of contract, was filed by Trump's lawyers in August 2015 against celebrity chef José Andrés' restaurant group, Think Food Group. Andrés pulled out of a plan to open an upscale restaurant at the hotel after then-candidate Trump disparaged Mexican immigrants. Think Food Group also countersued for $8 million. In countersuing, the restaurant group argued that Trump's comments were hurting business:

"The perception that Mr. Trump's statements were anti-Hispanic made it very difficult to recruit appropriate staff for a Hispanic restaurant, to attract the requisite number of Hispanic food patrons for a profitable enterprise, and to raise capital for what was now an extraordinarily risky Spanish restaurant."

Trump's lawyers had tried to avoid the deposition, arguing the president-elect was "extremely busy handling matters of very significant public importance." But last week the judge in the case ordered Trump to sit for the deposition before the end of this week.

While the civil case has dragged on for months, as recently as Thursday morning Andrés tweeted an offer to Trump for a way to settle the dispute.

A number of lawsuits involving Trump and his businesses remain outstanding and are unlikely to be resolved before he takes the oath of office on Jan. 20. That could mean having a president in office who is subject to ongoing litigation, a potential major distraction for the leader of the free world. There is a pretrial hearing scheduled for May 17 in a case against another celebrity chef, Geoffrey Zakarian, who pulled out of a restaurant project in the Old Post Office as well.

Andrés endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton during the campaign and called on Trump to apologize to Mexicans and every "person he has insulted." Zakarian told the Village Voice in November that he nixed the project "because my buddy Donald, he f***** up. He opened his f****** mouth."

NPR's Peter Overby wrote in more detail about both cases late last year.

Despite Trump's boasts that he does not settle lawsuits, he has settled several, including a high-profile fraud case against Trump University for $25 million.

There's also a question as to whether Trump can hold the lease on the Old Post Office building once he becomes president. He doesn't own the building but is leasing it from the federal government. The agreement contains a clause that could prove problematic for Trump:

"No member or delegate to Congress, or elected official of the Government of the United States or the Government of the District of Columbia, shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease or to any benefit that may arise therefrom."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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