WASHINGTON - There are new questions about the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C. and whether the president-elect can legally continue to own and manage it. House Democrats say the language on the lease is clear. Or is it not?
A little over a year before Trump announced his run for president, he sent what has been described as a strongly worded letter to the General Services Administration (GSA) threatening to pull out of the deal for the Old Post Office Pavilion unless he got his way.
“The GSA officials were, according to internal documents that we secured in litigation, according to the government’s own description, they were so rattled – and that's their word – by Trump's posturing that they had to convene internal meetings,” said Carl Messineo of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. “They were quite concerned. They were quite frankly intimidated.”
Messineo is suing the government over the terms of this deal.
"As soon as Donald Trump assumes the presidency, he actually in effect becomes the landlord of that property, which is not his – it's the public's as well as the tenant,” said Messineo. “He is on both sides negotiating. How are those GSA officials, who were so intimidated and in their own word ‘rattled’ by Donald Trump the businessman, going to be able to negotiate fair terms in the public interest when he is in fact not only the president, but their boss?”
This week, four House Democrats sent a letter to the GSA administrator asking how the federal agency is going to address the issue. They wrote Trump will be in breach of the lease agreement the moment he takes office unless he fully divests himself of all financial interests in the lease for the hotel. It is a lease that says no elected official may benefit from it.
However, in a statement, the GSA said it does not have a position that the lease provision requires the president-elect to divest of his financial interests. In a word, they want to wait to see what Trump will do with his businesses. There is also more – the foreign businessmen and dignitaries who have already shown interest in staying there.
"This isn't a new issue of course,” said Messineo. “When the framers wrote the Constitution, when they enacted the Constitution back in 1789, they enacted a provision of the Constitution in Article I, Section 9 called the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits any type of benefit flowing from a foreign government to government officials.”
If Trump doesn't divest himself of the property by January 20 when he becomes president, he cannot be sued by law. So it may then be up to the General Services Administration, which would then be under the oversight of the Trump administration or the Republican-controlled Congress.