Federal government orders Donald Trump to give up his D.C. hotel before moving into White House

Democratic congressmen say the GSA concluded the Old Post Office hotel will violate its lease next month

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published December 14, 2016 4:40PM (EST)

 (AP/Evan Vucci/Getty/Gabriella Demczuk/Photo montage by Salon)
(AP/Evan Vucci/Getty/Gabriella Demczuk/Photo montage by Salon)

In 2013, the General Services Administration leased Washington D.C.’s historic Post Office Pavilion to the Trump Organization for $180 million. The Trump International Hotel was soon used as the backdrop for a number of events during Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Now, the federal government is ordering the president-elect give up his ownership stake in the luxury hotel before his inauguration.

Four Democratic lawmakers, part of the House Oversight Committee, say the GSA told them Trump would breach his 60-year hotel lease "the moment he takes office" unless he fully divests his interests in it. As the lawmakers noted in a letter to the GSA administrator first reported by BuzzFeed News, the Trump Organization’s lease with the GSA makes clear 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.”

The GSA's deputy commissioner "made clear that Mr. Trump must divest himself not only of managerial control, but of all ownership interest as well," said a letter from Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee. Cummings — along with Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, Virginia Rep. Gerald Connolly, and Indiana Rep. Andre Carson — demanded to know what the GSA planned to do about the conflict of interest posed by Trump's hotel, which is just blocks away from the White House.

If Trump refuses to divest from his hotel, he would be given 30 days by the GSA to address the issue, the letter states, then be brought before a civilian tribunal that negotiates disputes involving federal agencies. As the Washington Post noted shortly after the election, however, "unlike almost every other federal government contract, the Trump hotel lease explicitly prohibits GSA from exercising its longstanding, well-established, congressionally mandated right to unilaterally terminate contracts." The agency may need to breach the contract, but it seems unlikely GSA would sue a sitting president or his company.

Because Trump will oversee the GSA as president, he will soon be in the extraordinary position of being both landlord and tenant.

And there are mounting concerns that foreign governments and American business leaders will seek to curry favor with the new president by booking rooms and holding events there.

On Dec. 7, the Embassy of Bahrain hosted a reception at the hotel to mark a national holiday.

Trump said late last month he planned to hold a press conference on Thursday to announce his plans to turn over operation of his business empire to his children, but postponed his first post-election press conference amid reports of multiple conflicts of interests bogging down his transition to the White House.

So far, Trump has claimed he will turn over managerial responsibility to his two adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, but he has given no indication that he will sell his stake in any property.

A government ethics agency has called on Trump to divest from his business and establish a qualified blind trust.

The Democrats' letter went on to state that neither Trump nor his associates had weighed in on the issue. "This raises serious questions about how Mr. Trump plans to proceed," they wrote. The GSA commissioner also said that Trump's transition team has not been in touch with the GSA about the conflict, the Democrats claimed.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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