House panel probes Trump hotel lease

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Democrats on a House panel grilled the General Services Administration about its oversight of President Donald Trump's lease on the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C., where the chief executive's company operates a luxury hotel.

Trump's congressional critics across multiple committees have sought answers from GSA on whether the president's continued profits from participating in a lease on a government building violates the terms of the lease itself and runs up against the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits high officials from accepting gifts or titles of office from foreign states.

At the Sept. 25 hearing of the House Transportation Committee's Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, GSA Public Buildings Commissioner Dan Mathews testified that it would be "inappropriate for GSA to weigh in on [the emoluments question] while it is the subject of active litigations."

Democrats repeatedly pressed Mathews on the details of the lease's financial reporting requirements and practices as well as whether the agency was considering a review of the emoluments question, which has been advised by GSA Inspector General Carol Ochoa.

In January 2019, a GSA inspector general report stated that it was "improper" for agency lawyers to have excluded the constitutional question from  their review of the lease.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), called the hearing a "fishing expedition" for Democrats looking for ammunition -- especially now that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has ramped up congressional probes of Trump with possible impeachment hearings and a vote in mind.

"The president continues to have a personal stake in the hotel," Subcommittee Chairwoman Dina Titus (D-Nev.) said in her opening remarks. "GSA hasn't done a thing about it."

"This whole thing is so out of line in terms of GSA's oversight of the public interest of the lease of this hotel from Day One – Day One. And that's why we're here today," said Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).

Aside from the emoluments issue, Titus and other committee Democrats said the GSA isn't providing enough financial detail on the lease's returns to the government.

Titus said the GSA has not provided monthly statements on how much the hotel is bringing in per month, only yearly statements that show the contractually-bound yearly rent of $3 million. Other committee Democrats wondered how much income, a percentage of which is contractually due the federal government, wasn't being reported.

Republicans countered that the reporting structure is similar to lease reporting requirements for other historic buildings. They also argued that the government had been getting a $3 million a year return on a building that had been producing minimal revenue previous to Trump's renovation of the property under the contact.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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