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Among Donald Trump’s many potential conflicts of interest, one stands out: His organization’s lease with the federal government to redevelop and run a luxury hotel in the iconic Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol.
How, critics wondered, could President Trump become his own landlord?
Now comes a new twist: Two federal procurement experts are arguing that not only will Trump have an ethics challenge — he will be in violation of the terms of the lease as soon as he takes the oath of office.
Steven L. Schooner, a professor of government procurement law at the George Washington University Law School, and Daniel I. Gordon, a senior advisor to GW’s Government Procurement Law Program (and President Obama’s first administrator for federal procurement policy) pointed out this week in Government Executive magazine that a provision in Trump’s lease with the General Services Administration states that "No ... elected official of the Government of the United States ... shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom..."
"To protect the integrity of the federal government’s procurement process, GSA must end its lease arrangement with President-elect Trump now," the experts argue.
The GSA, which runs federal government real estate, declined to discuss the specifics when contacted by NBC News.
"GSA plans to coordinate with the President-elect’s team to address any issues that may be related to the Old Post Office building," spokeswoman Renee Kelly said in a statement.
"GSA ran a fair and open competition, subject to careful and rigorous review, which resulted in the selection of the Trump Organization as the preferred private sector entity to redevelop the Old Post Office. GSA negotiated a lease with the Trump Organization and submitted the details to Congress prior to signing the lease in August 2013," Kelly added.
The federal conflicts of interest law prohibits government officials from using their governmental authority in ways that will help their financial interests, but that law does not apply to the president.
Trump has dismissed concerns about his business ties, telling the New York Times, "The president can’t have a conflict of interest."
But whatever the law says, the lease is clear, Schooner and Gordon say.
"The language could not be any more specific or clear," they write, having first raised the issue in a November 15 op-ed in the Washington Post. "Donald Trump will breach the contract on Jan. 20, when, while continuing to benefit from the lease, he will become an `elected official of the Government of the United States.’"
"The situation is a casebook example of both the appearance of a significant conflict of interest and an intolerable intermingling of an elected official’s governmental duties and his family’s personal financial interests."
The Trump transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The hotel has drawn attention for another reason. The Washington Post reported Nov. 18 that foreign diplomats were booking rooms there in an effort to "build ties with the new administration."
"The faster GSA ends its business relationship with the Trump Organization, the better," Schooner and Gordon write.