The contract between the Trump Organization and the General Services Administration, which owns the federal building in which the luxury hotel is housed, explicitly states that no elected U.S. official may have a say in or benefit from the lease for that property.
As lawmakers noted in a letter to the GSA administrator first flagged by Buzzfeed News, Trump and his team have been informed that he will violate the terms of the lease as soon as he is sworn into office.
“The Deputy [GSA] Commissioner made clear that Mr. Trump must divest himself not only of managerial control, but of all ownership interest as well,” Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Gerald Connolly (D-VA), and Andre Carson (D-IN) wrote in the letter.
If Trump refuses to do so, the letter states he would be given 30 days to address the issue, then be brought before a civilian tribunal that negotiates disputes involving federal agencies.
In a statement to the Washington Post late Wednesday morning, the GSA did not dispute the lawmakers’ account, but said it was too early for the agency to assert definitely that the President-elect would be in breach of the contract if he does not surrender his interest in the hotel before Inauguration Day.
The GSA informed lawmakers that agency officials received no communications from Trump about this imminent conflict of interest, though they have warned the transition team about their concerns as well as those of ethics experts who have been ringing alarms about the lease for months.
The Trump International Hotel was used as the backdrop for a number of events during the presidential campaign. Since Election Day, two foreign countries have planned events there and a number of foreign dignitaries have booked rooms in order to curry favor with the incoming president. The RNC reportedly plans to hold its Christmas party there, and Vice President-elect Mike Pence spoke at a Heritage Foundation event at the hotel.
Ethics experts have said that these bookings already represent remarkable conflicts of interest. They argue that Trump’s stated intent to turn control of his company to his adult children would not fix the problem, either.
“There’s no way that the president of the United States can have a lease with the GSA where the president appoints the head of the agency and that person serves at the president’s pleasure, and then employees of that organization are going to negotiate with that person’s children,” Steven Schooner, a former federal administrator in Bill Clinton’s administration, told TPM in a recent interview.
In their letter, Democratic lawmakers asked whether Trump could appoint a new senior counsel or administrator for the agency who could alter the current interpretation of the lease.
The deputy commissioner was quoted in the letter replying that GSA officials who manage contracts “are independent, base their decisions on the laws and regulations governing the contracts they oversee, and would not change their positions based on political influence.”
Read the full letter from lawmakers below.
This post has been updated to include the GSA's Wednesday comment to the Washington Post.