Nobody is arguing that the General Services Administration did anything wrong in leasing the Old Post Office Pavilion to the Trump Organization through a bidding process that began in 2008, well before Donald Trump decided to run for president. But when Trump declared his candidacy for president in August 2015, it might have occurred to somebody at GSA that the lease could become a problem. It certainly should have been on GSA's radar after Trump received the Republican Party's nomination for president in July, and when candidate Trump took a break from campaigning to attend the Trump International Hotel's grand opening Oct. 26, agency executives should have been deep into planning for the possibility that he would become president.
As former federal procurement executives Steven Schooner and Daniel Gordon noted in a recent column on Government Executive, the contract language is clear: “No ... elected official of the Government of the United States ... shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.”
When Government Executive asked GSA about the lease two weeks ago, the agency issued a statement saying it had run "a fair and open competition, subject to careful and rigorous review."
“It is the Office of Government Ethics that provides guidance to the executive branch on questions of ethics and conflicts of interest,” the spokesperson said. “GSA plans to coordinate with the president-elect’s team to address any issues that may be related to the Old Post Office building.”
But as Schooner and Gordon explain, the Office of Government Ethics is a policy shop, not an investigative body and does not handle misconduct, or in this case, impending misconduct. "The lease’s plain language (a term favored by the late Justice Antonin Scalia) makes clear that Mr. Trump will be violating the lease’s terms when he becomes an elected official on Inauguration Day," wrote Schooner and Gordon.
On Wednesday, ranking Democrats on two House panels wrote to GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth, demanding answers by Dec. 7 on how GSA will handle the unprecedented “imminent breach-of-lease and conflict of interest issues" created by Trump’s agreement with the government.
When Government Executive again asked GSA what steps it was taking to address the issue, Charles Clark reported:
GSA this week reiterated a response it gave Government Executive two weeks ago, in which it said the bidding process that began in 2008 was a fair competition and referred readers to relevant documents detailing the agreement.
That's beside the point, of course.
On Thursday, Democratic Senators Tom Carper and Elizabeth Warren joined the queue of those seeking answers. In another letter to Roth, they asked GSA to explain what it is doing to resolve the conflict of interest unfolding on Pennsylvania Avenue at the Old Post Office Pavilion. "GSA needs to provide assurances to the American people that your agency will take whatever steps are necessary to protect taxpayer dollars and avoid any conflicts of interests," the senators wrote.
We asked GSA, again, what steps it is taking to address this issue, whether the agency is in talks with the Trump Organization and the timeline for resolving the issue. No response yet.