The General Services Administration improperly “ignored the Constitution” when deciding to maintain the lease of the Old Post Office Building to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC after Donald Trump was elected to the White House, according to an inspector general report released Wednesday.
The report covers the GSA’s evaluation of whether the lease violated clauses in the Constitution designed to prevent corruption and self-dealing by the President as well as its analysis of whether Trump’s ongoing interest in the hotel violates a section of the lease that says no elected official of the US government can profit from it.
Lawyers from the GSA’s Office of General Counsel who were reviewing the lease “all agreed early on that there was a possible violation” of the constitutional ban on gifts or benefits from foreign and domestic governments to the president. “Nonetheless, the attorneys decided to ignore the emoluments issues,” the report found.
The report disclosed that 11 days after Trump’s inauguration, lawyers from the GSA and the lease contracting officer met with Trump’s two eldest sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, where the officer “strongly encouraged” the President’s divestiture from the hotel. Trump, however, ultimately declined to divest.
Though the report concluded that GSA’s decision-making process involved “serious shortcomings,” it recommended only that the GSA conduct a legal review of the language in its future contracts.
It didn’t ask the agency to review the current lease with Trump.
“One ongoing problem is that GSA continues to use problematic language from this lease in other leases,” said the IG’s congressional relations officer Robert Preiss. “For that reason, we recommend that the agency determine the purpose of that provision, conduct a formal legal review that includes consideration of the Emoluments Clauses, and revise the language to avoid ambiguity in the future.”
Government watchdogs and the President’s opponents, including Democrats in Congress, argue the payments to Trump’s business from governments violate the Constitution.
On Wednesday, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Democratic chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said Trump “should not have any contracts with the federal government,” adding that “the Trump Hotel is a glaring physical symbol of the Trump administration’s refusal to play by the same rules as everyone else.”
Cummings has demanded documents from the Trump Organization and has vowed to pursue investigations into the business. Lawyers for the Trump Organization have said the company has abided by ethics requirements, including in a letter sent to Cummings last week.
The lease from the GSA – which manages federal buildings and land, including the historic Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue – was awarded in 2012 and the hotel, a Trump Organization property, opened in 2016, shortly before Trump’s election.
Since taking office, Trump has maintained his interest in the Trump Organization, which is held in a trust. The company is managed by his adult sons Don Jr. and Eric. Trump has made a habit of visiting the hotel for dinner, and it has become a regular gathering spot for those with business before the administration, including foreign governments.
The attorneys general of the District of Columbia and Maryland have sued, claiming that Trump is in violation of the Constitution’s ban on emoluments, or payments, from foreign or domestic government entities to the President because of his continued interest in the hotel.
The Justice Department has moved to halt the case from proceeding.