Trump's ownership of D.C. hotel raises concerns over conflict of interest
In a letter to the General Services Administration (GSA) released on Wednesday, December 14, 2016, four ranking democrats continued their requests for information into their investigation of potential breach-of-lease and conflict-of-interest issues over President-elect Donald Trump’s lease with the U.S. Government for the Trump International Hotel building in Washington D.C. (the city’s Old Post Office building), located just a few blocks from the White House.
The letter also aims to confirm that the GSA assured democrats that the President-elect must eliminate his stake entirely in the hotel before taking office later in January or else he will be considered in breach of the lease agreement.
Democrats claim agency said Trump should renounce ownership of hotel
Democrats claim that on December 8 the federal agency informed them “that Mr. Trump will be in breach of the lease agreement the moment he takes office on January 20, 2017, unless he fully divests himself of all financial interests in the lease for the Washington D.C. hotel.”
The letter refers, specifically, to section 37.19 of the lease agreement (which Trump signed two years before launching his presidential campaign) that states: “No member or delegate to Congress, or elected official of the Government of the United States or the Government of the District of Columbia, shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom…”
The letter adds that the GSA’s Deputy Commissioner told the ranking democrats and their staffs “that Mr. Trump must divest himself not only of managerial control, but of all ownership interest as well.”
According to the democrats, the GSA said that it “has received no communications to date from Mr. Trump’s business organization about this issue,” despite the fact that it alerted the Trump transition team about the “imminent breach” of the lease agreement.
Federal agency strikes a different tone than democrats
However, the GSA released a statement in response to the democrat’s letter that seems to be somewhat at odds with its characterization of the December 8 exchange among officials over lease conflicts. The GSA’s statement reads in part:
“GSA does not have a position that the lease provision requires the President-elect to divest of his financial interests. We can make no definitive statement at this time about what would constitute a breach of the agreement, and to do so now would be premature. In fact, no determination regarding the Old Post Office can be completed until the full circumstances surrounding the President-elect’s business arrangements have been finalized and he has assumed office.”
Representative Elijah Cummings from Maryland, the top ranking democrat to sign the letter, responded to GSA’s statement by acknowledging that clearly any breach of a lease agreement is “officially viewed as a ‘hypothetical issue’” until January 20 but is also quoted by CNN as saying: “the simple fact is that GSA informed our staffs that they interpret this lease provision as prohibiting any elected official from having any ownership interest in the lease, and we stand 100% behind our letter.”
Potential Conflicts of Interest
In addition to addressing a possible breach of the lease agreement, democrats also said last week that the GSA “raised a host of concerns about serious conflicts of interest that already exist and may become even more exacerbated going forward,” most notably the President-elect’s daughter Ivanka Trump’s role as the primary contact for the lease agreement.
The democrats’ letter states: “…Ms. Trump is all of the following – the President-elect’s daughter, a top presidential transition team official, a lessee under the contract GSA oversees, and the primary contact for GSA on the lease. The conflict of interests are obvious.”
In addition, it has been pointed out that perhaps the largest conflict of interest concerning Trump’s ownership of the D.C. hotel is the fact that, should the President-elect remain owner even after his inauguration, he would essentially become both the landlord for the property and its tenant, simultaneously, by leasing the hotel from the very agency that he will oversee. As president, Trump will lead the GSA (which issued the original lease for the building) and will also appoint the head of that same federal agency.
Trump’s transition team recently told reporters from various news outlets that the President-elect will discuss potential conflicts of interest in January.