Inspector General Says GSA Wrongly Ignored Constitutional Questions Over Trump Hotel Lease
WASHINGTON — The Inspector General for the General Services Administration this week raised questions about the GSA’s management of its lease of the Old Post Office Building to the Trump International Hotel since President Donald Trump took office.
An Inspector General report made public on Wednesday said GSA failed to properly consider the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause in reviewing the lease. The clause is essentially designed to prohibit federal officials from using their public office for private gain. It bars presidents from accepting money from foreign governments. While Trump does not directly manage the hotel, he remains an owner.
Trump critics worry foreign dignitaries have been staying at the hotel to curry favor with the administration.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal was quick to weigh in on the news, turning to social media to point to the IG report as bolstering his own argument that Trump is violating the Emoluments Clause.
“IG report is a signal to Trump that he cannot flaunt the Constitution in order to preserve the best business deal. 200 of my colleagues & I will keep holding his feet to the fire with our foreign emoluments lawsuit,” Blumenthal said on Twitter.
Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, are the lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit in which nearly 200 members of Congress have filed in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia claiming that they have a right to hold Trump accountable for potential violations of the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause.
They claim Trump has withheld information that they need in order to determine whether such violations exist.
The Trump Hotel is located a few blocks from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue where it has a 60-year-lease with the federal government for the Old Post Office property.
Shortly after the November 2016 election, lawyers in GSA’s Office of General Counsel began discussing the issues raised under the Constitution’s Emoluments Clauses and by mid-December 2016, OGC’s senior attorneys on the project agreed there was a possible violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause but decided not to address the issue.
The Inspector General’s report concluded that the decision to “punt” on the emoluments issue was improper. It recommended that GSA conduct another legal review of the lease, which was signed in 2013.
GSA general counsel Jack St. John noted in an appendix of the report that his office would comply with the recommendation. However, he seemed to bristle at the notion that the agency was somehow unduly influenced at any point in the process.
“In fact, your office found no undue influence, pressure or unwarranted involvement of any kind by anyone, including the Executive Office of the President and the Office of Management and Budget,” St. John wrote to Inspector General Carol Ochoa.
He added that “any commentary resulting from the report that suggests the agency took any action in order to protect the President’s business interests is therefore plainly meritless.”