Well, it didn’t take long, but President Donald Trump just got hit with his first (of what we believe will be many) ethic complaints.
‘Trump violated his lease for the Trump International Hotel in D.C. the second he was sworn in, according to the nonpartisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.’
CREW director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement:
‘He just swore on the Bible to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” but by continuing to accept payments from foreign governments, he has already failed.’
Trump’s International Hotel is located in the old post office building in DC, which is owned by the government. Therefore, he leases the building from the government… the government that he now runs.
In the complaint filed by the watchdog group, they noted that section 37.19 addressed potential conflicts of interest. They wrote:
‘Section 37.19 of the ground lease provides 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.”‘
They went on to explain that the purpose of the ban is the same as the Federal Acquisition Regulation which is meant to prevent the awarding of federal contracts to government employees or businesses owned by that employee. The policy states:
‘The policy is intended to avoid any conflict of interest that might arise between the employees’ interests and their Government duties, and to avoid the appearance of favoritism or preferential treatment by the Government toward its employees.’
They supported their argument by pointing out just how much of an interest Trump actually holds in the Trump International Hotel. They wrote:
‘More than 76% of Trump Old Post Office LLC is owned by DJT Holdings LLC, which in turn is owned almost entirely by The Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust.’
The group also reasoned that the moment Trump was sworn in, he was in violation of the lease, and he can “no longer ‘be admitted to any share or part’ of the lease or ‘to any benefit that may arise’ from it.”
They also outlined the potential danger of Trump having such an interest in the hotel. They wrote:
‘The potential conflicts of interest with regard to President Trump’s company’s lease of the Old Post Office Building are serious and real. President Trump now both owns the lessee, Old Post Office LLC, and controls the lessor, GSA, whose administrator is appointed by and serves at the pleasures of the president. If a dispute arises under the lease, or when terms of the lease are renegotiated every year, the exact problems the ground lease’s conflict-of-interest provision is intended to avoid will come to pass.’
That may seem confusing, however, here’s an easy example of a conflict of interest that exists by Trump still having major interests in Trump International Hotel. The Washington Post reported in November that rooms in the hotel had sold out for the inauguration for five times the normal rate. Furthermore, they reported one Asian diplomat said, “Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’ Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, ‘I am staying at your competitor?'”
The former Mexican ambassador even addressed the fact that the temptation would “certainly be there.” He also added, “If I were still in government, I would discourage it, among other reasons because it can be questioned and looked at in a very poor light, as though you are trying to buy influence via a hotel bill.”
The concern over the conflicts-of-interest that the Trump Hotel raises has not just come to light, however. In December, Politico reported representatives in Congress were already raising the issue. Rep. Elijah Cummings in a letter to the GSA wrote:
‘We do not see this as an ambiguous provision, but as a strict and categorical ban. There is a clear and very real conflict that will be triggered the moment Mr. Trump is sworn in as President of the United States unless concrete steps are taken now to avert it.’
Trump reached the deal with the GSA back in 2013 to lease the old post office building for 60 years for a minimum rent of $3 million a year.
Though the White House has yet to make any comment, Trump’s advisers have previously stated that as Trump was not a government official at the time the lease was formed, the provision does not apply to him.
Featured image via Getty Images / Mark Wilson.