POLITICS — Inspector General: GSA ignored the Constitution when it let Trump keep lease at D.C. hotel

Officials at the General Services Administration (GSA) ignored the Constitution in allowing President Donald Trump to keep the lease at his namesake Washington, D.C. hotel, an inspector general report revealed this week.

According to the report, GSA, which oversaw the redevelopment of the Old Post Office building where the Trump International Hotel is currently housed, and was responsible for screening all development proposals, overlooked critical provisions in the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause in allowing Trump to maintain the lease following his election in 2016.

“We found that GSA recognized that the President’s business interest in the OPO lease raised issues under the Constitution’s Emoluments Clauses that might cause a breach of the lease,” the report read. “[H]owever, GSA decided not to address those issues in connection with the management of the lease. […] In addition, we found that GSA’s unwillingness to address the constitutional issues affected its analysis of Section 37.19 of the lease that led to GSA’s conclusion that [Trump’s] business structure satisfied the terms and conditions of the lease.”

The report noted officials were initially unconvinced that awarding Trump the lease in 2012 would pose problems down the road, as they “thought a Trump presidency unlikely,” despite his earlier campaign ruminations. Even after Trump’s election, however, GSA lawyers were in agreement Trump’s ownership of the hotel might violate the Emoluments Clause, but chose to ignore the problem because the agency typically “[did] not deal with constitutional issues (other than issues involving land
condemnation or GSA officials).”

GSA lawyers briefly considered a provision in the lease, Section 37.19, which prohibits elected officials from “participating in contracts or agreements with the United States.” Section 37.19 has been used in other GSA contracts to ban members of Congress, for example, from beneficial ownership interests.

Howeverm Trump’s lawyers claimed he wasn’t in violation of 37.19 because he had been “‘admitted to’ [the] lease before [the] election.”

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Image credit: Daniel X. O’Neil

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