Top Democrats on the Oversight Committee are calling on the federal government to turn down President Trump's reported request for the feds to give his hotel a break on rent payments because of coronavirus.
Calling it a conflict of interest, Oversight Committee Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, say the General Services Administration, which holds the lease, should turn him down. “As soon as Donald Trump was sworn in as President, his lease with the federal government for the Trump Hotel should have ended because it explicitly bars contracts with pubic officials," Maloney and Connolly said in a statement. "Instead, President Trump has been violating this contract for three years while GSA ignores the law." The GSA runs the federally owned historic Old Post Office just blocks from the White House.
Numerous lawmakers and outside ethics officials complained about the deal at the time, since federal rules in fact bar the GSA from leasing to government officials, and the Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution bar the president from accepting money from foreign officials (as the Trump Hotel does frequently) and from getting anything of value from the government outside his salary. Yet, once Trump took office and was in charge of the GSA along with the rest of the executive branch, the agency decided to allow the the lease to continue. The decision sparked a probe by the GSA inspector general, who concluded that the agency simply ignored the lease violation and declined to consider the constitutional violations without adequate explanation. Democrats on the Oversight Committee have been demanding details on the lease for years, and pushed the issue after Democrats took control of the House. At a hearing last June, the GSA refused to produce documents on the lease decision. The stonewalling prompted even Republicans to complain. “If anyone is going to say the reason we don’t have these documents today is because of a deliberative process, I would urge you strongly not to go there," said then-Rep. Mark Meadows, who has since become Trump's chief of staff. "You’ll find the full force of Republicans and Democrats on that. If you think the lack of giving documents to the committee is serving a greater purpose, I assure you, it is not.” The GSA has also refused to turn over specific legal memos and financial details to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Now, Democrats want the GSA to reject any modifications of the lease terms, although, like most hotels, Trumps' also are getting hit hard because of the coronavirus. "It appears that the President’s company is now seeking rent reductions from GSA -— which of course reports to him," Maloney and Connolly said. "Our Committee and ethics experts across the political spectrum have long warned of these blatant conflicts of interest, and it is time for GSA to finally stand up to the President and grant no rent reductions for the Trump Hotel.”