A young seaman cook named José Andrés was up in a mast of the Spanish navy’s tall ship Juan Sebastian Elcano as it joined a great parade of sailing vessels into New York Harbor in the late 1980s.
“Coming under the Verrazano Bridge with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, being high up the mast… hundreds of boats flying the American flag surrounding us everywhere,” Andrés would recall years later in the food website Eater. “Manhattan, with its Twin Towers, gave me the most amazing welcome that anybody could have after being 30 days at sea… The stars on the American flag equaled the stars in the sky—stars that, for sailors like me, were somehow guiding you forward, so you would not get lost in the ocean, you would not get lost in life.”
Andrés went on, “To me, America’s flag is a symbol of a country trying to become a beacon of liberty, of freedom, of hope, a fighter for what is right in the world.”
He was in his late teens, young enough to imagine anything for his future, maybe even becoming a celebrity chef and owner of nearly two-dozen restaurants.
He could never have imagined that the same principles he saw embodied by the American flag would lead him into a legal fight with a soon-to-be president of the United States who got elected by promising to Make American Great Again while stirring up profoundly un-American fears and prejudices.
All that was decades away in 1991, when Andrés left the Spanish navy and came to America on an E2 visa. He had less than $50 and his cooking knives. He worked in a Spanish restaurant called Paradise Barcelona.
“I came just to be one more cook in a restaurant, bringing the traditions of the country I was born into,” he would recall to Eater. “I didn’t realize I was about to start working hard to earn the right to belong.”
He proved to be a chef of uncommon ability and he soon had his own restaurant and soon after that half a dozen restaurants and then a dozen and then 20. He married a woman who worked in the Spanish embassy and they had three daughters.
On Nov. 14, 2013, he and his wife, Patricia, went to a Baltimore courtroom to be sworn in as U.S. citizens along with 72 other immigrants. He tweeted his joy afterward.
“People of America! 4 hours ago my wife and I became AMERICAN CITIZENS…thanks to all for being part of our world!”
The official who administered the oath had reminded these newest Americans that true citizenship involves more than paperwork. Andrés had already embraced that truth.
“I’ve learned that passports and official papers are not what really makes you belong somewhere,” he later told Eater. “What makes you belong is the hard work, the desire, the happiness that you bring to yourself, your loved ones, and to others, working hard to improve your community, to improve the lives of the people around you, to say, ‘I am here to make a difference.’ You are not giving me the right to be part of something. I am working hard to earn my right to belong to something.”
He saw a lesson in his story, telling a reporter, “I need to make sure everybody understands that many immigrants like me—given the right opportunity like I was given—we can have a positive impact in this amazing country.”
On Nov. 19, 2014, one year and five days after he became a citizen, Andrés signed a lease for his latest restaurant, this in Donald Trump’s latest hotel, in Washington. D.C. Everything proceeded much as it had at Andrés’ other ventures until June 16, 2015, when Trump formally declared his candidacy for president.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Trump said in his speech. “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists.”
In the days that followed, word reached Ivanka Trump that Andrés was disturbed by the remarks. They had a conversation.
“And I said, you know, it’s America, you’re entitled to your political views,” she would recall in a deposition. “And I even told him he’s entitled to express his political views, as is my father. And they are his views.
“José has his own views.”
She added, “And that’s one of the beautiful things about this country. But, you know, there’s no—there’s no relevance to our collective project.”
Andrés suggested that Donald Trump might want to disavow his remark. Trump instead repeated much the same sentiments in a statement on July 6.
“What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc… Likewise, tremendous infectious disease is pouring in across the border. The United States has become a dumping ground for Mexico.”
Andrés announced that he could not continue in such circumstances and was abandoning plans to open a restaurant in the hotel. He noted in legal papers that he was suddenly confronted with the task of recruiting Hispanics and Hispaniophiles to work at a place closely associated with a man whose statements had made him a pariah for a majority of the Hispanic community.”
And Andrés had his own, personal feelings, first stirred when he stood on that mast as a young seafaring cook, sailing into New York Harbor.
“I am an immigrant at heart, and I feel the value of immigrants like me,” he subsequently wrote. “We are bridges, we are not walls, walls that humanity has been working centuries to bring down.”
Trump declared that Andrés had broken the lease without legal justification and filed suit in District of Columbia Superior Court, seeking $10 million in damages. Trump filed a similar suit against another celebrity chef, Geoffrey Zakarian, who had also abandoned plans to open a restaurant at the hotel. Trump’s deposition in the Zakarian suit took place on June 16 of 2016 in Washington, D.C., on the anniversary of the speech when he declared his candidacy and started the trouble with the chefs.
“So a year ago today,” Zakarian’s lawyer said.
“6/16. Exactly today,” Trump confirmed.
Trump said of the chefs, “I don’t understand why, why they did this. I’m running for office. I obviously have credibility because I now, as it turns out, became the Republican nominee running against, we have a total of 17 people that were mostly senators and governors, highly respected people. So it’s not like, you know, like I’ve said anything that could be so bad.”
Trump reasoned as only Trump can, “Because if I said something that was so bad, they wouldn’t have had me go through all of these people and win all of these primary races.”
Trump added, “And I’m pretty even in the polls or close to even in the polls right now.”
Trump went on, “So I was very surprised that [Zakarian] wanted to get out of the lease.”
Zakarian’s attorney said, “I think your daughter told me in her deposition that you don’t email, and I observed that that’s because you’re a very smart person.”
Trump replied, “Yes. we’ve figured that out. Took a lot of people a long time to figure that out. That’s right.
The attorney asked, “But do you make notes, do you have anything on paper related to this case?
Trump answered, “No, I don’t.”
Trump revealed that he does, in fact, have a bedrock principle.
“Well, over the years I’ve seen many, many landlord/tenant disputes, and I’ve seen horrible things said both ways. But I—but the—but the tenant is never released from paying his rent.”
He reiterated this tenet for tenants.
“I’ve seen unbelievable disputes where people are fighting like cats and dogs, and the tenant keeps paying the rent.”
Zakarian’s attorney asked Trump, “Did you give any thoughts to the effect that your statement relative to Mexicans and immigrants would have on tenants in your current or future projects?”
Trump answered, “No. No, I didn’t. I didn’t at all.”
The attorney asked, “Did it cause you any concern that all of these entities wanted to apparently distance themselves from you in the wake of your comments?”
Trump answered, “No. I’m a big boy. I understand. I’ve been making these statements, by the way, for many years. This is not just new.”
Trump suggested that a business might in fact draw more customers by being associated with him.
“They like to be around the name and maybe me,” he said. “I think people really dig it.”
Both chefs countersued, but likely would have just let it all end if Trump had agreed to drop the matter. Trump refused, saying through a spokesman that if he settled he would make himself a target for other suits.
But Trump had no sooner been elected than he had paid $25 million to settle a civil fraud suit involving the now-defunct Trump University.
His real fear may be that if he lets these two chefs just walk away then others may follow.
And then there is that one bedrock principle to which Trump seems to ascribe, that crystalline tenet for tenants.
Pay the rent!
Trump did seek to avoid submitting to a deposition for the Andrés case as well. His attorney argued in court papers that his children negotiated the lease and that he “has not been involved in this dispute and, therefore, has only limited knowledge of the facts at issue.” The attorney further argued that now Trump is the president-elect, “he is extremely busy handling matters of very significant public importance.”
The court noted that Trump personally signed the lease and that his statements regarding Hispanics were at the heart of the case, which Trump himself initiated. The court further observed that Andrés had stated in his reply, “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.”
The court continued, “With respect to Plaintiff’s claim that Mr. Trump’s schedule renders it difficult for him to be present in the District of Columbia, Defendants have agreed to conduct the deposition in New York City.”
The court ended with this:
“ORDERED, that Plaintiff must produce Donald J. Trump for a deposition on the date agreed by the parties in the first week of January in New York City to last up to seven hours on the record. “
Friday was out, because Trump was scheduled to meet with FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper regarding the allegations that the Russian government influenced the election with a cyber variation on the Watergate burglary.
So Thursday it was. Trump’s attorney in the matter, Rebecca Woods, arrived at Trump Tower before 9 a.m. and left before noon. The deposition is said to have taken less than two hours, or around the same amount of time as the one focused on Zakarian.
Observers noted that the first and only sitting president required to submit to a deposition was Bill Clinton in the Paula Jones case. Clinton fought it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but lost. The brief for Jones was written by none other than George Conway, husband of Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway.
Conway summed up his positon in an op-ed where he wrote, “In a case involving his private conduct, a president should be treated like any private citizen. The rule of law requires no more—and no less.”
The rule of law could put President Trump on a witness stand if he presses on with his cases against the chefs who have broken that tenet for tenants.