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GSA’s inspector general reviewing Trump Hotel lease

The General Services Administration’s Office of Inspector General is reviewing the lease between the agency and the Trump organization.

“GSA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) is evaluating GSA’s management and administration of the ground lease for the Old Post Office Building,” a GSA spokesperson said in an Aug. 29 email to Federal News Radio. “GSA welcomes the oversight of the OIG and will continue to work with it on its evaluation.”

In a statement from Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the House oversight committee member said the IG review “is important and must be free of any interference.”

“As soon as the president was sworn in the Trump organization was in violation of its lease,” Connolly said. “The language in the lease makes absolutely clear that no elected official can benefit from the contract. GSA’s determination otherwise is confounding and taints this administration.”

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A request for comment from GSA’s OIG was not immediately returned.

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

Since President Donald Trump’s election in November, the lease has drawn criticism from government watchdogs, as well as Democratic members of Congress.

At a Dec. 8 briefing, then acting PBS Commissioner Michael Gelber told Democratic lawmakers Trump must sell off his financial stake in the hotel — located blocks away from the White House — due to a clause in the contract that prohibits elected officials from leasing the federally-owned building.

Lawmakers sent a letter in late January requesting the information, but a Feb. 6 response from acting GSA Associate Administrator Saul Japson said the unredacted documents would need to be requested by seven members of the committee.

Japson also said in his letter that GSA had met with members of Trump’s company “to further discuss the matter.”

“Once GSA has a full and complete understanding of the tenant’s structure, GSA will determine whether the tenant remains in compliance with the contract,” Japson said.

Sens.Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in February asked for GSA’s IG to review the lease.

“Since President Trump took the oath of office, the Trump Old Post Office, LLC appears to be in breach of the plain language of the lease agreement,” their letter said. “President Trump has repeatedly stated that although he will resign from his positions at the various companies of the Trump organization, he will not divest his ownership. As such, President Trump is now effectively both landlord and tenant of the Old Post Office Building, creating significant complications for the management of a federal building under a program designed ‘to maximize asset income and provide value to the Federal Buildings Fund and taxpayers.’ Career GSA officials must now manage and renegotiate this lease under the scrutiny of the President of the United States and his adult children. While GSA officials must work to ensure the lease remains fair to the tenant, the Trump Old Post Office, LLC, they must also work to safeguard and maximize taxpayer dollars.”

In March, GSA’s Contracting Officer Kevin Terry and the agency’s general counsel ruled that Trump was not in violation of his lease with GSA because he put the hotel in a trust and is not benefiting from the profits while he is in office.

A symbol

Melanie Sloan, senior adviser at American Oversight, said in a statement that the ethic’s watchdog was glad the OIG was taking a long-overdue look at the murky circumstances surrounding this lease.”

“In an administration rife with corruption and self-dealing, the Trump Hotel has come to symbolize the so-called ‘swamp’ that President Trump falsely promised to drain,” Sloan said. “The leader of the free world should be focused on public service, not how to use the office for personal gain. Unfortunately, President Trump doesn’t seem to understand the distinction.”

Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, had similar sentiments, telling Federal News Radio the lease “crystallizes public concern and anger over the appearance of corruption.”

“My observation is that inspector general reports have weight,” Howard said. “That they do receive serious treatment by members of Congress and committees, and that the recommendations are taken seriously within agencies as well.”

The impact or influence of a particular IG does vary from agency to agency, Howard said, and not every report’s recommendations will be put into practice.

But a report “can and does provide rigorous, deeply researched insight into what’s happening around a given issue, and often does result in people within agencies committing to actions that mitigate at least some of the concerns that exist there.”