The President-elect’s Trump International Hotel will present an immediate conflict of interest when he is sworn into office on January 20.
The 2013 lease the Trump Organization signed with the federal government to house the hotel in Washington, D.C.’s Old Post Office Pavilion, which is owned by the General Services Administration, explicitly states that elected officials can play no role in or have no benefit from the arrangement. According to two experts on government procurement law, Trump’s election as president represents a clear violation of that contract.
Steven Schooner and Daniel Gordon, former administrators in the Office of Management and Budget, laid out the ethics issues involved in the lease in a Monday op-ed in Government Executive magazine.
The contract language is clear: “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 language could not be any more specific or clear. Donald Trump will breach the contract on Jan. 20, when, while continuing to benefit from the lease, he will become an “elected official of the Government of the United States.”
Schooner and Gordon recommend that the GSA terminate the $180 million 60-year lease before Inauguration Day to prevent Trump from serving as “both landlord and tenant.” Trump will oversee the GSA and appoint its administrator as president.
Schooner and Gordon say that the contract language would allow the GSA to justify the lease termination, and that the only action the Trump Organization could take would be to sue. They believe the damages would be “nominal at best” and “a price worth paying to preserve the integrity of our government and its contracting system.”
Asked about the lease arrangement on a Tuesday press call, Trump spokesman Jason Miller said he has not been briefed on the issue.
“We will check with the general counsel and get back to you on that,” he said.
Trump has maintained that he will set up a “blind trust” handing control of his company over to his adult children. Yet Ivanka, Eric and Donald Jr. serve on his transition team and remain close advisers to their father, calling into question whether there would truly be a divide between the family’s private and political interests.
Richard Painter, a top ethics official under President George W. Bush, recently told the Huffington Post that Trump could sell or gift his company to the children, though he has shown no interest in doing so.
During the election, Trump used the hotel as the staging ground for a press conference and a ribbon-cutting ceremony-cum-campaign event. According to a recent Washington Post report, foreign diplomats are booking rooms at the hotel in an effort to curry favor with the President-elect.
The GSA told Government Executive magazine that it “plans to coordinate with the President-elect’s team to address any issues that may be related to the Old Post Office building.”
Schooner, who served as an associate administrator at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy in the Office of Management and Budget under President Bill Clinton, and Gordon, who served as chief administrator of that office under President Barack Obama, have been warning about the possible ethics violations surrounding the hotel for weeks.
This post has been updated. Esme Cribb contributed reporting.