-- Democrats in Congress are challenging President Donald Trump’s right to continue to lease the historic Old Post Office Pavilion for his Washington, D.C. hotel, citing a line in the agreement that prohibits elected officials from profiting off a government lease.
“President-elect Trump announced during his nationally televised press conference on January 11 that he refuses to divest his ownership interests in his companies, and he took the oath of office on January 20 to be sworn in as President,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings wrote Monday in a letter to Timothy Horne, the acting administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA), which oversees the lease. “As a result, President Trump is in apparent breach of the lease with the Federal Government for his hotel in Washington, DC.”
The specific language in the lease is unambiguous – it says “no member or delegate to Congress, or elected official of the Government of the United States or the Government of the District of Columbia, shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.”
Neither Trump nor his company has indicated how they intend to resolve the matter.
At a press conference shortly before taking office, Trump lawyer Sheri Dillon said she had taken efforts to iron out potential conflicts by transferring operation of the company to Trump’s adult sons, Don Jr. and Eric Trump.
“President-elect Trump should not be expected to destroy the company he built,” she said, noting that Trump would “take all steps realistically possible to make it clear that he is not exploiting the office the presidency for his personal benefit.”
How the GSA will handle the questions surrounding the lease and the fact that Trump is in essence both landlord and tenant of the Post Office building will be further complicated by the fact that he will appoint the new director of the agency.
The General Services Administration did not respond to questions about the lease and any potential violations.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and his committee have requested an unredacted copy of the lease agreement for review.
"If people have questions about this, the White House is going to be the one that has to answer those questions," Chaffetz recently told ABC's George Stephanopoulos in an interview on "This Week" regarding concerns about Trump's potential conflicts-of-interest.
"Until we see something that is actually wrongdoing, we're probably not going to go on a fishing trip," he said.
The Trump Organization spent more than $200 million transforming the historic Pennsylvania Avenue property into a luxury hotel.
The letter Cummings sent Monday suggests that, at least in September and October, the hotel’s returns were less than stellar – earning far less than projected.
“President Trump’s company reported losses totaling more than $1.1 million in those two months alone,” the letter reads.
“It is possible that subsequent months drew more business and higher income levels,” Cummings wrote. “The possibility that President Trump will profit from large increases in hotel revenues because he was elected President highlights the grave concerns we have raised for months.”
Indeed, the hotel became a main focal point for Trump supporters during his inaugural festivities.
Phil Ruffin, an Inaugural Committee vice chair and the billionaire owner of the Treasure Island casino in Las Vegas, told ABC News he was going to pay $18,000-a-night to stay in the Trump International Hotel for the inauguration of his good friend.
For much of the week, the lobby of the hotel was filled with Trump supporters.
Trump campaign insiders including Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich posed for photos with supporters at the hotel restaurant, while donors enjoyed champagne at the lobby bar. Trump made several impromptu stops at the hotel throughout the week, where supporters cheered and posed for photos.
Many were able to book rooms there by virtue of being major donors to a Trump inaugural fund, according to a menu of perks offered to donors.
Concerns about potential conflicts of interest have swirled around the hotel from the moment Trump won the 2016 election.
Cummings questioned motives of foreign officials who were suddenly booking events at the hotel.
“If folks wanted to play favor to the president, they go to his hotel,” Cummings told ABC News in an interview. “When they meet up with him, the first thing they will say is ‘We are staying at your hotel, we took out 30 rooms for a week.’”
Trump said during a press conference that he would adopt a policy of donating income from foreign guests to the U.S. Treasury.
But Trump’s team has not addressed the question of how it would resolve questions about its GSA lease, Cummings said.
“Unfortunately, President Trump has refused to address these concerns,” he wrote in his letter, which was also signed by Democratic Reps. Peter A. DeFazio (OR), Gerald Connolly (VA), and André Carson (IN). “And taxpayer dollars may now be squandered as career public servants are forced to take remedial action to cure this breach.”