WASHINGTON — A judge on Wednesday ordered President-elect Donald Trump to answer questions in his lawsuit against a celebrity chef who canceled plans for a restaurant in Trump’s Washington hotel, rejecting Trump’s arguments that he was too busy and that the questioning amounted to harassment.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Jennifer Di Toro wrote that blocking lawyers for restaurateur José Andrés from questioning Trump would be unfair, since Trump’s statements during the presidential campaign were at the heart of the case.
Trump is suing Andrés and celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian, who both canceled plans for restaurants in the Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington after Trump called Mexicans rapists and criminals at his campaign launch event in June 2015.
Andrés’ lawyers want Trump to answer questions about the restaurant deal and the circumstances that led Andrés to pull out. Trump’s lawyers filed papers in court this week asking the judge to stop that from happening, arguing that he was “extremely busy” as president-elect and that the law set a high bar for forcing top-level government officials to participate in litigation.
Di Toro said in her order that it was “apparent that Mr. Trump may have relevant personal knowledge of the facts and circumstances of this case.” She noted that Trump personally signed the sublease for Andrés’ restaurant and that his eponymous company was responsible for bringing the lawsuit against Andrés.
Trump failed to establish “good cause” that his busy schedule as president-elect should block the interview from taking place, Di Toro wrote. The judge also pointed out that Andrés’ lawyers agreed to do the deposition in New York at Trump’s request, instead of in Washington.
Trump attorney Rebecca Woods of Seyfarth Shaw in Washington declined to comment. A lawyer for Andrés did not immediately return a request for comment.
Trump had argued that if he did have to appear for questioning, the interview should be limited to two hours and that Andrés’ lawyers shouldn’t be allowed to ask him questions that he was asked over the summer in a deposition in a related case. The judge denied both of those requests.
Andrés’ lawyers will have up to seven hours to question Trump. The deposition is expected to take place the first week in January.
Trump is also suing celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian, who pulled out of plans for a restaurant in Trump’s D.C. hotel around the same time as Andrés. Trump earlier this year lost a fight to block Zakarian’s lawyers from questioning him in that case, and he sat for a deposition over the summer.