GSA denies claim Trump must divest from D.C. hotel
Democrats: Letter said lease breached at inauguration
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.
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.