Trump’s D.C. Hotel Under Renewed Scrutiny
The Capitol riots, Trump’s second impeachment and the upcoming change in administrations raise new questions about whether the General Services Administration will continue the lease.
The Trump Organization’s controversial hotel lease with the General Services Administration is under renewed scrutiny now with many businesses distancing themselves from the organization after the Capitol riots last week and a new presidential administration about to take over.
Trump signed the lease for the Washington, D.C., hotel in the Old Post Office building in August 2013. Democrats and watchdogs repeatedly raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest after Trump became president and failed to fully divest from his business interests, 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. There have been three lawsuits about this.
Additionally, Democratic lawmakers have continuously blasted the General Services Administration for alleged relaxed oversight of the hotel and stonewalling their investigations. The Trump Organization sought to sell the lease in October 2019, but put the efforts on “indefinite hold” in November, according to CNBC.
In the wake of the riots––that led to the House voting to impeach Trump on Wednesday–– many companies are pulling back from working with the Trump Organization, including real estate firm JLL that was working with it to sell the hotel lease (although it did not give a reason why), The Washington Post reported.
“With New York City, the PGA, Marriott and Twitter and so many others breaking ties with Trump Organization, is GSA considering terminating its lease agreement with Trump Organization?,” asked Steve Schooner, procurement law professor at The George Washington University. “Is there anything, literally anything, that Trump or other leaders of the Trump Organization could do that would cause GSA to suspend the Trump Organization or propose Trump Organization for debarment?"
Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told Government Executive that while the lease situation has been problematic for the last four years, “when you have the president now inciting what can only be described as an insurrection against the government, it feels even more wrong for the president to be benefiting from a massive contract with the government.”
Bookbinder said he isn’t sure if the president’s incitement of violence at the Capitol would violate any provisions of the contract, but thinks GSA lawyers should review it “to see whether this misconduct could form the basis for terminating the contract or other consequences.”
In July 2017, the Trump administration scrapped a decade-long plan to relocate the FBI headquarters, which is located near the hotel. Democratic lawmakers accused the administration of wanting to keep the bureau in its current location to prevent commercial developers from constructing a new property on the site that would compete with the hotel.
Then in January 2019, the GSA inspector general found that GSA’s Office of General Counsel and Public Buildings Service recognized the president had a business interest in the lease, which raised questions about the Emoluments Clause, but “decided not to address those issues” in managing the lease.
“I thought GSA should revoke this lease four years ago,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations, said in a statement to Government Executive. “The events of this past week underscore why awarding this lease was a conflict of interest and Trump’s name should be removed from the lease while he is removed from the White House.”
GSA did not provide answers to Government Executive’s questions. Even if it maintains the lease, the Biden administration will come into office in less than a week.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said his committee’s “investigation has not ended—it was stonewalled” and that he “expect[s] our records requests to be honored by the Biden administration.”
Bookbinder said he hopes that Biden and his political officials “take a hands-off approach and let objective, career officials make objective decisions” about the lease, which “didn’t happen in the past four years.”
The Biden transition team did not respond for comment.