GSA de­nies claim Trump must di­vest from D.C. ho­tel

Democrats: Let­ter said lease breached at inau­gu­ra­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO -

The U.S. Gen­eral Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion pushed back Wed­nes­day against a claim by Demo­cratic law­mak­ers that the agency had said Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump must di­vest all fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests in his splashy new ho­tel in North­west or be in breach of his lease.

Top Democrats on the House over­sight and trans­porta­tion com­mit­tees said in a let­ter they made pub­lic early Wed­nes­day that an of­fi­cial with the GSA, which holds the lease on the Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel, said in a Dec. 8 brief­ing to mem­bers of Congress that “Mr. Trump must di­vest him­self not only of man­age­rial con­trol, but of all own­er­ship in­ter­est as well.”

The let­ter sug­gests the gov­ern­ment con­curs with ex­perts who say Mr. Trump’s lease re­quires him to give up his stake in the newly opened ho­tel on Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue.

But it wasn’t so. The GSA said in a state­ment re­leased and posted on­line later Wed­nes­day that the agency had not reached any such con­clu­sion about the Old Post Of­fice build­ing, which the gov­ern­ment owns.

“GSA does not have a po­si­tion that the lease pro­vi­sion re­quires the Pres­i­dent-elect to di­vest of his fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests. We can make no de­fin­i­tive state­ment at this time about what would con­sti­tute a breach of the agree­ment, and to do so now would be pre­ma­ture,” the agency stated.

The GSA elab­o­rated that “no de­ter­mi­na­tion re­gard­ing the Old Post Of­fice can be com­pleted un­til the full cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the Pres­i­dent-elect’s busi­ness ar­range­ments have been fi­nal­ized and he has as­sumed of­fice.”

Trump ad­vis­ers told re­porters Wed­nes­day that Mr. Trump will hold a news con­fer­ence in Jan­uary to dis­cuss the mat­ter, but they oth­er­wise re­fused com­ment.

Mr. Trump tweeted Mon­day that he plans to hand man­age­rial con­trol of his busi­ness to two of his chil­dren along with ex­ec­u­tives, leav­ing open the pos­si­bil­ity that he will re­tain his own­er­ship stake.

Di­vest­ing could present dif­fi­cul­ties and take time. The Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion has in­ter­ests in about 500 com­pa­nies around the world, though many ap­pear to be com­pa­nies set up for le­gal and tax pur­poses with lit­tle busi­ness op­er­a­tions.

In ad­di­tion to ho­tels, Mr. Trump has in­ter­ests in re­sorts, golf clubs, of­fice and re­tail space, and res­i­den­tial build­ings. Many prop­er­ties are not owned by him but bear his name un­der li­cens­ing deals.

The Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion won the right to lease the Old Post Of­fice build­ing on Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue in 2012, beat­ing out sev­eral groups. Mr. Trump and the GSA took more than a year to ham­mer out a 60-year lease for its use.

At is­sue are 43 words of the lease’s clause 37.19 on top of page 103, which has been in­ter­preted by some ex­perts on gov­ern­ment con­tract­ing law — and Trump crit­ics — to force the pres­i­dent-elect to un­load his eq­uity stake in the gov­ern­ment-owned build­ing near the White House.

The doc­u­ment’s key part: No “elected of­fi­cial of the Gov­ern­ment of the United States” shall be “ad­mit­ted to any share or part of this Lease.”

The Democrats wrote to GSA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Denise Roth that Ivanka Trump, the pres­i­dent-elect’s daugh­ter, has been the chief con­tact for the agency and this raises “ob­vi­ous” con­flicts of in­ter­est.

The ho­tel has been a fo­cus of crit­i­cism by gov­ern­ment ethics ex­perts. In ad­di­tion to any breach of the lease, they worry that for­eign gov­ern­ments will try to curry fa­vor with the pres­i­dent-elect by book­ing rooms for their of­fi­cials and host­ing events there.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The U.S. Gen­eral Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion pushed back against a claim by Demo­cratic law­mak­ers that the agency said Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump would have to di­vest his fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests in the Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel.

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