GSA disputes the lawmakers’ allegations of noncompliance.
Top House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Democrats are demanding the General Services Administration comply with the panel’s subpoena for documents on the Trump hotel lease or appear in a public hearing to explain the agency’s refusal to cooperate. GSA officials contend, however, that they have tried to comply with the request.
The committee claims GSA missed the November deadline for the committee's subpoena of communications, financial records and legal memos related to the lease of the Old Post Office Building to the Trump International Hotel, following the lawmakers’ request in January 2019. Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., committee chairman; and Dina Titus, D-Nev., chairwoman of the panel’s Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management subcommittee, wrote to General Services Administration Administrator Emily Murphy on Dec. 20 expressing concerns over the agency’s defiance.
“Our government is built upon checks and balances, and as members of Congress we have an obligation to perform critical oversight of the executive branch,” they wrote. “Your steadfast refusal to comply with these efforts is not just disconcerting but an affront to the democratic institutions that the United States has been founded upon.”
A GSA spokesperson told Government Executive that the agency is in the process of responding to the letter. “Contrary to the committee’s assertion in that letter, GSA offered on November 12, and again on November 18, to provide the committee an in-camera review of the tenant’s confidential financial records in unredacted form, provided that the committee agreed to not publicly disclose that information without GSA’s consent,” said the spokesperson. “Unfortunately, the committee has not accepted GSA’s offer, which remains open...This offer follows the production of more than 10,000 pages GSA has already provided to the committee regarding this lease.”
Trump signed the hotel lease in August 2013. After he became president and failed to fully divest from his business interests, Democrats and watchdogs raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest since the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the president from receiving payments beyond his salary from either federal, state or foreign governments. Additionally, Democratic lawmakers blasted GSA for its relaxed oversight the hotel’s financial audits during a hearing in September.
In the letter, DeFazio and Titus outlined “a pattern of obstruction and obstinance that is unacceptable and damaging to GSA’s ability to manage taxpayer funds in a transparent manner.” They cited their previous requests and GSA’s non-compliance with an inspector general recommendation to review its leases to avoid legal questions about the U.S. Constitution's emoluments clause.
“It gives us no comfort that under your direction GSA is resisting not just the legitimate oversight efforts of the U.S. Congress, but also the oversight efforts of your own internal inspector general,” they wrote.
In a press release, the lawmakers referred to the letter as an “ultimatum” to the agency.
This article was updated with a response from GSA.