DeFazio Investigates Violations of the Constitution and Breach of Lease by the Trump Hotel
Washington, D.C. —House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (OR-04) this week summoned the General Services Administration (GSA) to a hearing to examine the lease for the Old Post Office Building which is owned by the federal government and leased to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. As both the President of the United States and the owner of the hotel, he is both the lessor and lessee of the property, which creates a conflict of interest. The lease expressly prohibits any elected official of the government of the United States from deriving any benefit from the lease. Because he chose not to separate himself from his investments, from the moment President Trump was sworn into office, he has breached the terms of his lease of the Old Post Office Building and is likely violating both the Domestic and Foreign Emoluments Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Since the Committee’s investigation of the Trump Hotel lease began in 2016, multiple requests to GSA for documents related to the Old Post Office have been made. To date, GSA has provided over 10,000 pages of documents. However, GSA is still withholding key financial documents and legal records.
A video of DeFazio’s opening remarks at the hearing can be found here. DeFazio’s opening statement as prepared for delivery is below:
I have been pursuing issues related to the leasing of the federally owned Old Post Office building to the Trump International Hotel for years. Since October 2016, I have written seven letters to the General Services Administration (GSA) seeking records and asking questions about this lease and the agency’s legal justification for not terminating this lease in order to comply with the terms of the lease and the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clauses.
Those clauses protect the country against efforts to corrupt the President. They also bar the President of the United States from profiting from any “King, Prince, or foreign State” without congressional consent or from being financially compensated from state governments or the federal government, with the exception of receiving his or her salary.
Because the President has refused to divest his interest in the Trump Old Post Office LLC, GSA needs to take action to prevent the U.S. Constitution from being violated.
As Ranking Member of this committee, GSA ignored my requests for information about the Old Post Office lease for years. They only began complying with my records requests once I became Chairman. And as Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the first oversight letter I wrote with Ms. Titus on January 22, 2019, was to GSA requesting records on the Old Post Office Building lease.
Since then, we have received more than 3,000 documents amounting to more than 10,000 pages from GSA. However, eight months later GSA is still refusing to provide certain categories of documents to the committee including legal memos and opinions regarding this lease and monthly financial statements from the Trump International Hotel.
This is unacceptable. It is also deeply troubling to me that GSA on one hand has said they respect the committee’s oversight authority and on the other hand they have relied on the Trump Old Post Office LLC’s attorney – let me repeat that GSA has relied on the Trump Old Post Office LLC’s attorney – to question the committee’s legislative authority in seeking to obtain these records.
I would like to remind GSA that they are a federal agency and not an arm of the Trump Organization and that they have a fundamental obligation to provide the committee with the records it needs to conduct appropriate oversight of the leases the GSA manages, programs they create and policies they enact. And last time I checked, GSA has its own Office of General Counsel.
Congress’s oversight authority is broad and this Committee’s oversight of GSA leasing arrangements is clear. Our legislative jurisdiction over GSA and public buildings, including the Old Post Office Building, which is currently being leased to the Trump International Hotel, is well established. Our ability to conduct robust oversight ensuring the public is aware of how federal agencies are being managed and how their contracts with private entities are being enforced is paramount.
This oversight should not be a partisan issue. Previous Republican and Democratic Ranking Members and Chairs of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its subcommittees have routinely investigated GSA’s management of its leases.
Suggestions that the committee does not have oversight authority to look into the Old Post Office lease to the Trump International Hotel or that somehow business records of a company leasing a federally owned government building are sacrosanct and should not be reviewed as part of Congress’s long-standing and legitimate investigative process is frankly ridiculous and appears to be a well-orchestrated distraction from the core issues surrounding GSA’s apparent disregard of the Emoluments Clauses expressly laid out in the U.S. Constitution.
This hearing is focused on the Old Post Office Building lease and the GSA’s failure to properly account for the Emoluments provisions in the U.S. Constitution, as a result of President Trump’s refusal to divest from his financial stake in the Trump International Hotel. Unfortunately, this is only part of a pattern of government employees under this administration brazenly violating these provisions.
In the past few days it has been reported that a senior aide to the President of Ukraine met a State Department employee for breakfast at the Trump International Hotel in an alleged effort to seek help connecting with President Trump’s lawyer, Rudolph Guiliani. Regardless of whether the foreign or federal U.S. official paid for this encounter, if they were there on government business it would implicate the Emoluments Clauses to the Constitution.
It has also been reported that Trump administration officials spent taxpayer funds to stay at Trump’s golf club in Ireland and U.S. Air Force crews have used federal funds to stay at Trump’s resort in Scotland. In addition, the Attorney General of the United States has apparently booked his private holiday party at the Trump International Hotel and the press has reported on patronage of the Trump Hotel in D.C. by foreign governments as well as at least one state government. Although not all of these acts may violate the law or the U.S. Constitution they all raise serious ethical concerns.
President Trump could have simply divested from his investments when he took office. He did not. He has not. It seems he will not. And GSA must now deal with the consequences and stop shirking its constitutional obligations.
Our Founding Fathers knew well the risk of unscrupulous individuals, both foreign and domestic, attempting to corrupt our presidents. And they knew this would have detrimental and wide-ranging negative consequences on our democracy and the public’s perception of our government and its institutions.
Yet, in this instance regarding President Trump’s financial stake in the Trump International Hotel, it seems clear that GSA has failed in its obligation to comply with the Constitution. Ignoring this problem won’t make it disappear. But investigating it can help determine how GSA went so wrong, and how they can take corrective actions so that these mistakes and missteps are not repeated into the future.