Senators press GSA on Trump hotel lease
The Old Post Office during its renovation. (Photo credit: EQRoy / Shutterstock.com)
President-elect Donald Trump's sprawling business interests present any number of potential conflicts that agency executives will have to navigate. The New York Times documented the global complications posed by Trump's real estate empire, and a new Washington Post report notes that the president-elect's stock portfolio has implications for the Environmental Protection Agency and departments of Commerce, Energy and Treasury, among others.
The General Services Administration, however, may be the first to face the challenges of having a business magnate as commander-in-chief.
In 2013, GSA signed a 60-year lease for the Old Post Office Building with a limited liability company created by Trump and his children. At the time, the deal was praised as a creative and practical move by the government to maximize the value of a taxpayer-owned asset. When Trump becomes president, however, he will effectively become both tenant and landlord -- and several Democrats in Congress want to know what GSA plans to do about that.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) wrote to GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth on Dec. 1, noting that the lease states, "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…"
Warren and Carper wrote that "it is likely impermissible for this relationship to remain in effect" once Trump becomes president, and complained that "we are not aware that GSA has engaged in advanced planning to avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest involving the Old Post Office Building lease agreement."
The senators gave Roth until Dec. 9 to answer questions in four specific areas:
- What guidance the Office of Government Ethics has given GSA on how to "minimize conflicts of interest surrounding the lease agreement."
- Whether GSA has received "any advice from entities other than the OGE or developed internal guidance."
- What steps GSA has taken to investigate the potential conflicts of interest "since President-elect Trump announced his candidacy for president in August2015."
- What steps GSA will take if Trump does not "divest his hotel-related assets... or place them in a qualified blind trust."
The senators' query came one day after four Congressmen -- Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Peter DeFazio (D-Mass) and André Carson (D-Ind.) -- sent Roth a similar letter. The House members expressed particular interest in what communications, if any, had transpired between Trump representatives and GSA officials about the potential conflict.
GSA has not yet responded to either letter, but has issued statements previously that it "plans to coordinate with the President-elect's team to address any issues that may be related to the Old Post Office building."
Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW and GCN.
Prior to joining 1105 Media in 2012, Schneider was the New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company. The founding editor of NationalJournal.com, Schneider also helped launch the political site PoliticsNow.com in the mid-1990s, and worked on the earliest online efforts of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his career in print journalism, and has written for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, WashingtonPost.com, Slate, Politico, National Journal, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.
Schneider is a graduate of Indiana University, where his emphases were journalism, business and religious studies.
Click here for previous articles by Schneider, or connect with him on Twitter: @troyschneider.