Inspector General: GSA Ignored Constitutional Problems with Trump Hotel Lease

The Office of Inspector General of the General Services Administration issued a scathing report on “Evaluation of GSA’s Management and Administration of the Old Post Office Building Lease.” As the Inspector General concludes, GSA lawyers essentially ignored a glaring constitutional problem with leasing this federally-owned building to the Trump Organization.

As background, the GSA administers the lease of the federally-owned Old Post Office Building to the Trump International Hotel. The Domestic Emoluments Clause of the Constitution provides: “The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.” (This is a separate provision from the Foreign Emoluments Clause, which applies to presents and emoluments from foreign governments and their instrumentalities.)

The problem is that the GSA leases the building to the Trump Organization, which is owned by the president. To make matters worse, the GSA’s lease contract includes standard language providing: “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 . . . .” After Trump entered office, the GSA announced that it had concluded that this clause somehow did not apply, on the bizarre theory that since the Trump Organization nominally transferred management of the LLCs and corporations that operate the hotel to Trump’s sons, Trump will not “benefit” from the lease during his term in office. The GSA’s decision not to enforce the unambiguous term in the lease contract is a government benefit and domestic emolument.

The Inspector General’s report notes that the lease “raised issues under the Constitution’s Emoluments Clauses that might cause a breach of the lease; however, GSA decided not to address those issues.” GSA’s own lawyers recognized the constitutional problem early on, but “the attorneys decided to ignore the emoluments issue … without conducting any research of the two Emoluments Clauses or checking for any OLC opinions.”

President Trump has been enriching himself from public resources since the moment he took office, and unfortunately in this case, federal government lawyers sworn to uphold the Constitution enabled his profiteering. Congress must begin an immediate impeachment inquiry.

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