On Thursday, December 1, 2016, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) asked General Services Administration (GSA) Director Denise Turner Roth to explain how the agency will address a major conflict of interest presented by President-elect Donald Trump. They requested an answer by next Friday, December 9, 2016. Senator Warren has energetically called for resistance to Trump and his agenda at every turn: resisting racism, standing up to big business, and so forth.
— House OversightDems (@OversightDems) November 30, 2016
What Conflict Of Interest?
This problem involves the government’s 2013 lease of the Old Post Office building at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. to Trump Old Post Office, LLC, an affiliate of the Trump Organization, which is owned and controlled by the President-elect and his family.
In return for spending $200 million to develop the building into a luxury hotel, the Trump affiliate got a 60-year lease with the right to operate the hotel and retain all profits. As President, Donald Trump will have the right to appoint the head of the GSA, the landlord of his business, who will be responsible for making adjustments to annual payments due from the Trump organization to the federal government.
Two of the legal obstacles to this arrangement arise from the U.S. Constitution. First, Article I, Section. 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution provides:
“No person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States] shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
There is a loophole in this provision, in that Congress can make an exception. But there is no exception in the other relevant clause. Article II, Section.1, Clause 7 provides that the President shall receive compensation for his services, which shall not be increased or decreased during his (or someday, her) period in office:
“…And he shall not receive within that Period any Emolument from the United States, or any of them.”
This language seems pretty clear.
Four Democratic members of the House Oversight Committee — Elijah Cummings (Md.), Gerald Connolly (Va.), Peter DeFazio (Ore.), and André Carson (Ind.) — wrote a similar letter to the GSA on November 30 demanding answers by December 7.
Federal Contract Issues
The lease agreement itself creates lots of legal problems for Trump. As is standard practice when the government rents its property to private parties, the lease provides:
“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.”
That term of the contract will be breached as soon as Donald Trump takes the oath of office. Senators Warren and Carper explain that this clause is routinely included in contracts between the government and private entities in order to avoid any appearance of favoritism toward federal officials.
Some folks might argue that Trump is too rich to be affected by the dealings between the government and his hotel. Or they might not see a problem. Did you know that before the election, rooms at the Old Post Office hotel were vacant, largely because they cost three times the price of other hotels nearby?
But now, the hotel is doing much better, especially with diplomats and officials from foreign countries who have (or want to have) business with the federal government or with the President-Elect.
What Is GSA’s Plan?
Warren and Carper asked the GSA director:
- What, if any, guidance has the GSA received from the Office of Government Ethics??
- Has GSA received guidance from anywhere else?
- What, if anything, has GSA done to investigate the conflict since Trump began his campaign over a year ago??
- What will GSA do if Trump refuses to cooperate and resolve the conflict?
We all deserve the answers to these questions. And it’s a shame no one was asking them a year ago.
Watch this clip for more information about the conflict of interest:
Featured Image: Screenshot Via YouTube Video.