Democrat lawmakers continue to press GSA on Old Post Office lease

Two Democrat Senators  and four Democrat House members want answers from the General Services Administration about how the agency is addressing the conflict of interest President Donald Trump now faces with his company’s Old Post Office hotel in Washington, D.C.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.)  and Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.),  Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and André Carson (D-Ind.) sent letters to GSA Acting Administrator Tim Horne asking for new details.

Warren and Carper ask two basic questions:

  • What actions does GSA intend to take in response to the violation of the terms of the lease for the Old Post Office building?
  • What are the timelines for such actions?

The senators also asked for a briefing of GSA’s plans by Jan. 25.

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“In a letter to Sens. Warren and Carper on Jan. 5, 2017, GSA explained that ‘no determination regarding the Old Post Office can be completed until the full circumstances surrounding the President-elect’s business arrangements have been finalized and he has assumed office.’ These circumstances are now clear: Donald Trump is now President of the United States, and he has announced that he will not be divesting his interests in his company,” the lawmakers wrote. “The violation of the terms of the lease is no longer hypothetical, as President Trump will soon oversee GSA and appoint a new GSA Administrator, effectively making him simultaneously landlord and tenant of the Old Post Office building. Terms of the agreement require annual disclosures of sensitive financial information and for GSA to renegotiate rent adjustments and other payments to the Trump Organization. This scenario is a breach of the plain language of the lease agreement and presents unmanageable conflicts of interest for career GSA officials and President Trump.”

Warren and Carper say GSA’s contract with Trump Old Post Office LLC states 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 lease, which was negotiated in 2013 between President Trump’s company and GSA, contains no exceptions to this provision. Federal procurement officials include this clause in lease agreements to avoid the appearance of favoritism or preferential treatment toward federal officials.”

The lawmakers also sent the letter to GSA’s Office of the Inspector General.

A spokeswoman for the GSA Inspector General Carol Ochoa said, “We are aware of the situation. At this time, though, we do not have any comment.”

An email to GSA seeking comment on the letter was not immediately returned.

This was the second letter from Warren and Carper, who also wrote to GSA on Dec. 1 asking similar questions.

The Congressmen asked five questions, including: Has GSA, or does GSA plan to send, a 30-day letter providing notice that President Trump’s company is in apparent breach of the lease agreement?  If so, please provide a copy of that document and any attachments; and Please provide, on an ongoing basis starting with November, monthly reports submitted to GSA by President Trump’s company describing revenues and expenses.

“We have been raising concerns about this issue for months, and we understand that GSA raised our concerns with the Trump transition team directly several weeks ago. Our hope has always been that President Trump would resolve these breach-of-lease and conflict of interest issues prior to being sworn in as President on January 20,” the letter stated. “Unfortunately, President Trump has refused to address these concerns, and taxpayer dollars may now be squandered as career public servants are forced to take remedial action to cure this breach.”

The Congressmen want answers from GSA by Feb. 6.

GSA’s deputy commissioner of the Public Building Service, Michael Gebler, told Democratic lawmakers in a briefing on Dec. 8 that Trump must sell off his financial stake in the Trump Hotel.

But at the same time, a GSA spokesperson walked back the deputy commissioner’s conclusion.

“GSA does not have a position that the lease provision requires the President-elect to divest of his financial interests,” the spokesperson said in a statement on Dec. 14. “We can make no definitive statement at this time about what would constitute a breach of the agreement, and to do so now would be premature. In fact, no determination regarding the Old Post Office can be completed until the full circumstances surrounding the President-elect’s business arrangements have been finalized and he has assumed office. GSA is committed to responsibly administering all of the leases to which it is a party.”

GSA awarded Trump Old Post Office LLC a 60-year, $180 million lease in 2013.

The letter comes as a handful of ethics and constitutional lawyers filed a federal lawsuit against the President.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) wants to force Trump to divest from his assets that do business with foreign governments. Crew says Trump is violating a clause in the Constitution that prohibits his businesses from receiving anything of value from foreign governments.

Trump’s lawyer said the President doesn’t have any conflicts of interest.

Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, said at his press briefing on Jan. 23 that President Trump “has resigned from the company as he said he would before he took office. Don and Eric are fully in charge of the company, he’s taken extraordinary steps to ensure that happened.”