WASHINGTON - A sign for the Trump International Hotel in Washington, which has been the subject of controversy since it was opened in 2016. (Heather Kim/Capital News Service)

After Trump hotel subpoena, House panel OKs bill seeking audits of federal property

By: Ayana Archie, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON – Following a House subpoena last month for documents regarding President Donald Trump’s lease for his Washington hotel, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would require the General Services Administration to audit all federal properties occupied by private parties. 

GSA’s Public Building Services owns and operates the property on behalf of the federal government. 

The proposed GSA Lease Transparency Act, introduced last week, would “address the GSA’s failure thus far to adequately track whether the Federal government is receiving all rent, revenues, and anything of value from tenants, including the Trump Organization,” according to Bayley Sandy, a spokeswoman for the chairman of the House panel, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon.

Democrats of the House panel issued a subpoena Oct. 24 to obtain the documents surrounding Trump’s lease of the Old Post Office Building, which is housing the Trump International Hotel. 

Before issuing the subpoena, DeFazio said he had received some files after several requests. But his demands for legal agreements between both parties, as well as monthly revenues, expenses, and profit reports Trump’s team may have provided to GSA, have gone unanswered, he said. 

“Political appointees at the GSA are trying to hide behind a pathetic excuse that Congress…can’t have key documents regarding a federally-owned property currently leased by the president,” DeFazio said in a statement. “That’s absolutely outrageous and should not hold up in a court of law.”

Under the new legislation, the first audit would be required within 90 days of enactment, and annually after that. 

Another five to 10 GSA leases are expected to be audited, according to Bayley’s statement. 

Committee Democrats have expressed concerns that Trump’s lease of the Old Post Office Building, which is federal property, is a conflict of interest and a violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. 

The domestic emoluments clause says the president should not receive any salaries outside of the one designated for his duties, while the foreign emoluments clause says the president should not be influenced by foreign gifts or titles.

Additionally, section 37.12 of Trump’s lease 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,” according to a January investigation by GSA’s inspector general. 

In the investigation’s findings, the agency admitted that Public Building Services did not consider the emoluments clause or section 37.12 of the lease when assessing the impact Trump’s 2016 election to the presidency would have on the agreement. GSA also has not conducted an audit.

The inspector general’s office said it chose to instead focus on lapses “in GSA’s decision-making process regarding these issues.” 

The president does not run the daily operations of the Trump Organization, but he is still the owner and his businesses benefit from partnerships with foreign entities.

Trump’s lawyers and the Department of Justice have defended his foreign business dealings as open market transactions, according to the Washington Post

The Trump Old Post Office, LLC obtained a 60-year lease of the Old Post Office Building in 2014, according to the GSA investigation. 

The hotel opened in October 2016. DeFazio pointed out the potential conflict of interest almost immediately when Trump was elected a month later.

The hotel has hosted numerous foreign delegations as well as various Republican Party functions.

However, news reports surfaced last month that Trump was planning to sell the lease. 

“People are objecting to us making so much money on the hotel, and therefore we may be willing to sell,” Donald Trump’s son, Eric Trump, told The Wall Street Journal.

The hotel made over $40 million in 2018, according to the president’s annual financial report to the Senate. 

In response to the reports of a sale, DeFazio said, “Removing the Trump Organization from the lease of a taxpayer-owned building is a good place to start…but given everything I’ve seen from dealing with this administration and the GSA over the past two years, I’m skeptical.”

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