Government agency 'ignored' Constitution in Trump Hotel lease: Federal watchdog

PHOTO: Donald Trump, accompanied by, from left, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Trump, Tiffany Trump, Melania Trump, and Ivanka Trump, cut a ribbon during the grand opening ceremony of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., Oct. 26, 2016.PlayJabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images
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A government agency “ignored the Constitution” by allowing the Trump Organization to retain a lease of the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue -- more widely recognized now as the Trump International Hotel -- when Donald Trump was elected president, according to a report issued Wednesday by the agency’s inspector general.

Lawyers with the General Services Administration (GSA) told investigators that “they ignored the emoluments issues” involved in determining whether the president’s election “caused Tenant to be in breach of the lease upon the President’s inauguration,” the report said.

The emoluments clause of the Constitution prohibits any federal office holder, including the president, from accepting any payment or benefit from a state or foreign government. For example, the hotel in Washington is frequently patronized by representatives of foreign governments while in the nation’s capital.

PHOTO: In this file photo is a general view of the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C. at the Old Post Office, Oct. 31, 2016, in Washington D.C. AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images, FILE
In this file photo is a general view of the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C. at the Old Post Office, Oct. 31, 2016, in Washington D.C.

The agency failed to appropriately account for the possibility that Trump could profit from the hotel while in office, including from foreign governments, the report says.

“We also found that the decision to exclude the emoluments issues from GSA’s consideration of the lease was improper because GSA, like all government agencies, has an obligation to uphold and enforce the Constitution; and because the lease, itself, requires that consideration,” the inspector general wrote.

Investigators in the inspector general’s office launched the probe in July of 2017 “based on numerous complaints from members of Congress and the public about GSA’s management of the lease.”

PHOTO: Donald Trump, accompanied by, from left, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Trump, Tiffany Trump, Melania Trump, and Ivanka Trump, cut a ribbon during the grand opening ceremony of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., Oct. 26, 2016. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Donald Trump, accompanied by, from left, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Trump, Tiffany Trump, Melania Trump, and Ivanka Trump, cut a ribbon during the grand opening ceremony of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., Oct. 26, 2016.

The Trump International Hotel is already tied up in two legal challenges based on emoluments concerns.

Attorneys general from Maryland and the nation’s capital said Trump violated the emoluments rules by profiting from the hotel and congressional Democrats have filed a lawsuit against Trump arguing that Congress must consent to all foreign payments he receives, including at his hotel. Both lawsuits are moving forward.

Earlier this week, ABC News reported that Trump’s inaugural committee spent more than $1.5 million at his hotel ahead of his 2017 swearing-in, according to internal documents.

In their report on Wednesday, the inspector general recommended -- and the GSA agreed -- that the agency “conduct a formal legal review” of the matter.