WASHINGTON — The inspector general of the General Services Administration, the government agency that controls federal property, said Wednesday that the agency had failed to consider whether President Donald Trump's lease on the Washington building that houses the Trump Hotel violated either the Constitution or the terms of the lease.
The IG report did not reach a conclusion on either of those issues, but said GSA lawyers should have.
The agency's failure to do so "foreclosed an early resolution of those issues, including a possible solution satisfactory to all parties." As a result, "uncertainty over the lease remains unresolved."
The GSA agreed in 2012 to allow Trump's company to redevelop the historic Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue into a luxury hotel. Trump officially opened the property himself in October 2016.
After Trump was elected president, the report says, GSA lawyers began to discuss whether his interest in the hotel violated the Constitution's emoluments clauses, which bar public officials from receiving "any present, emolument, office or title of any kind whatever from any king, prince, or foreign state" or any state in the U.S.
Several watchdog groups claimed that he would improperly benefit financially when foreign or state governments patronized the hotel and the issue is the subject of lawsuits against the president. Critics have claimed the president improperly benefits financially when foreign and state governments patronize his hotel a few blocks from the White House.
Wednesday's report says GSA lawyers "decided to punt," concluding that the agency does not generally deal with constitutional issues, even though the lawyers "agreed early on that there was a possible violation of the Constitution." The inspector general strongly criticized that reluctance, saying GSA is subject to the Constitution like any other federal agency.
The report said GSA lawyers also failed to consider whether Trump's election resulted in a breach of a term in the lease that said no elected official "shall be admitted to any share or part of these lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom." According to the inspector general, GSA lawyers met with Trump's two oldest sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, 11 days after the inauguration to discuss the issue.
A GSA contracting officer at the meeting "strongly encouraged the president's divestiture," not because he thought it violated the lease but because he wanted to get the Old Post Office out of the controversy, the report said.
GSA's general counsel, Jack St. John, said the report did not find even a single instance in which career or political employees sought to exert pressure on contracting officers.
"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," he said.