House Democrats on Wednesday said the General Services Administration told them President-elect Donald Trump must fully divest from his new hotel property in Washington, D.C. or he’ll be in violation of the lease.
Four Democrats of the key committees and subcommittees that oversee government contracts, including Rep. Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, recounted a briefing the members received from GSA Deputy Commissioner of the Public Building Service, Michael Gelber, who is not a political appointee, who said that when Trump is sworn in, he will be in violation of the provisions of a federal lease of the Old Post Office building.
“The Deputy Commissioner informed our staff that GSA assesses that Mr. Trump will be in breach of the lease agreement the moment he takes office on January 20, 2017, unless he fully divests himself of all financial interests in the lease for the Washington, D.C. hotel,” the Democrats wrote in a press release Wednesday.
A spokesperson from the GSA in a statement pushed back against the notion that opinion was endorsed by the agency, saying that it's too early to make such a determination.
The agency "does not have a position that the lease provision requires the President-elect to divest of his financial interests," the spokesperson read in a statement. "We can make no definitive statement at this time about what would constitute a breach of the agreement, and to do so now would be premature."
Trump won the lease rights of the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue, just two blocks from the White House. He opened the luxury hotel less than two weeks before Election Day. But section 37.19 of the lease agreement says that “no … elected official of the Government of the United States … shall be admitted to any share or party of this Lease.”
Trump will be an elected official once he is sworn in in January.
The aspect of the lease is in place to ensure that elected officials don’t curry favor with domestic or foreign business or special interests. Foreign diplomats have already hosted events at the hotel after Trump’s election and the country of Bahrain booked an event there.
The Old Post Office hotel is just one aspect of a web of business holdings that could create a conflict for the incoming president. Trump said he will announce in January – rescheduled from a news conference supposed to take place Thursday - how he will handle his business interests.
GSA officials indicate, the Democrats wrote, that Ivanka Trump, Trump's daughter, would also create a conflict. She is a member of Trump's transition team.
Cummings, along with Reps. Peter DeFazio of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Gerald Connolly of the subcommittee on government operations, and Andre Carson of the subcommittee on economic development, wrote a letter to the GSA, asking for additional information. They want unredacted aspects of the lease that show ownership, monthly expense and profit projections, and legal memos about the possible conflict of interest.