The battle over records about the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. is headed to federal court, with Democratic members of the House Oversight Committee announcing a lawsuit against the Trump administration on Thursday.
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“This lawsuit is not just about a hotel in Washington D.C.,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md, said. “This is about the President defying a federal statute and denying our ability as Members of Congress to fulfill our constitutional duty to act as a check on the Executive Branch.”
The legal argument underpinning the suit is a 90-year-old federal statute that requires the executive branch to respond to requests from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which has historically served as an important check on the Executive Branch.
But at the heart of the case is the glitzy hotel property the Trump Organization opened shortly before Trump took office. The business, now overseen by the president’s two adult sons, Don Jr., and Eric, signed a 60-year lease with the federal government to occupy the Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue.
With Trump’s election, critics argued the President had in essence become both the property’s landlord and tenant. Moreover, Cummings has noted, a special provision in the lease prohibits federal elected officials from being a party to the agreement.
A copy of the complaint can be read below.
In March, the agency that oversees the lease agreement, the General Services Administration (GSA), ruled that the Trump Organization was in full compliance with the lease because the President resigned his position with the real estate firm and transferred control of the company to his sons.
“In other words, during his term in office, the president will not receive any distributions from the trust that would have been generated from the hotel,” said Kevin M. Terry, the official who issued the decision.
Cummings said investigators from his committee have sought a range of records about the lease agreement, and that the administration has “refused all Democratic requests for documents about the Trump Hotel for the better part of this year.”
They have refused to provide basic documents about the hotel’s ongoing operations, foreign payments to the hotel, or the reversal of GSA’s legal position that President Trump could not be a party to the lease, Cummings said.
The lawsuit argues that the administration is duty bound to provide documents to congressional overseers, citing a federal statute dating to 1928 that requires a federal agency response to any request from seven or more members of the Oversight Committee.
But in a July 17 letter to Cummings, the acting GSA administrator said the White House Counsel had provided an opinion stating that agencies would only accept oversight from the committee – not from a group of individual members of the committee who lacked the blessing of the Republican chairman.
“The Executive Branch’s longstanding policy has been to engage in the established process for accommodating responses to congressional requests for information only when those requests come from a committee, subcommittee, or chairman authorized to conduct oversight,” the White House counsel’s office said. Any response to an individual member, it says, would come at the discretion of the agency.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., declined to comment.