House and Senate Democrats Pressure GSA on Trump Hotel Lease
Obama appointee departs without official guidance on possible conflicts of interest.
Denise Turner Roth departed her post atop the General Services Administration last week without releasing an official agency decision on the future of the Trump Organization’s lease for the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
That puts the decision on whether the three-year-old lease violates contract law—as some lawmakers and outside experts assert—in the hands of acting GSA Administrator Tim Horne or a still-unnamed Trump appointee.
GSA is reportedly preparing a post-inauguration statement, but its communications staff did not respond to inquiries on Monday. Two nonprofits and a group of law professors have prepared lawsuits that maintain Trump’s plan for rerouting hotel profits to the U.S. Treasury violates the Constitution.
On Monday, two Democratic senators sent GSA a letter saying Trump’s arrangement of being both landlord and tenant of the Old Post Office Building is untenable.
Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., requested all communications between the GSA and the Trump transition team on the hotel. They also criticized what they view as shortcomings in Trump’s plan to put his business holdings in control of his adult children.
The senators said they had raised this concern with GSA in writing several times during the transition. GSA replied that the alleged violations in the lease were “hypothetical” and that it was “premature” for GSA to make ruling.
“The violation of the terms of the lease is no longer hypothetical,” Carper and Warren wrote. “Terms of the agreement require annual disclosures of sensitive financial information and for GSA to renegotiate rent adjustments and other payments to the Trump Organization. This scenario is a breach of the plain language of the lease agreement and presents unmanageable conflicts of interest for career GSA officials and President Trump.”
They seek a briefing from GSA by Wednesday as well as a timeline for resolving the issue.
On the House side, Democrats led by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., continued their push for greater disclosure and oversight hearings on Trump’s potential conflicts, citing new documents they reviewed on Trump’s Washington hotel revenues.
“The documents . . . indicate that President Trump’s company reported receiving $1.1 million less in revenue than its own officials projected in the first two months operating the hotel, but the documents do not explain why income levels were so far below the company’s own projections,” they said in their own letter to GSA’s Horne.
Trump’s divestiture plan announced at his Jan. 11 press conference included a promise to turn over all hotel profits from stays by officials from foreign governments to the U.S.
Treasury. Two nonprofit groups and a group of law professors say that plan violates the Constitution.
“Unfortunately, President Trump has refused to address these concerns, and taxpayer dollars may now be squandered as career public servants are forced to take remedial action to cure this breach,” the letter said.
The documents produced by GSA in early January for September and October of 2016 (the luxury hotels’ first two months in operation) showed a $6,364,000 million revenue projected for the Washington hotel, but an overall loss of $1,160,000 when expressed in income.
Cummings, along with Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Andre Carson, D-Ind., also reminded GSA that its own Public Building Service commissioner had asserted last month that the Trump lease was problematic, but that the agency leaders had not agreed. They also cited liens filed claiming that Trump had not paid $5 million to some of his hotel contractors, an issue GSA is required to address.
They ask for a full briefing by Feb. 6, copying Republican panel counterparts.
Image via Hunter Bliss/Shutterstock.