An Inspector General report released Wednesday, January 16th, questions the constitutionality of the lease for the Trump Hotel in Washington. It points out while the General Services Administration recognized that the President’s business interest in the lease raised issues under the Constitution’s Emoluments Clauses, they decided not to address those issues in connection with the management of the lease. Given that all government agencies must uphold the Constitution in conducting their business, the newly released report deemed it improper that such considerations were not made during the initial leasing of the property in 2012. Despite strong evidence that the Trump Hotel lease had violated constitutional principles, the Inspector General’s report did not explicitly state that the leasing of the property had violated constitutional principles or that the lease should be cancelled. It only recommended a legal review of the language of its future contracts, which action the General Services Administration has agreed, in principle, to undertake. The lack of an investigation into the Trump Hotel lease and the lack of a recommendation to cancel the lease is troubling, because there is extensive evidence that the lease has allowed President Trump to violate Constitutional principles.
The IELR has previously reported on developments in active lawsuits involving the Emoluments Clauses and the constitutionality of the Trump Hotel lease. In November a US District Court judge denied a request for a stay in a lawsuit alleging that Trump improperly received payments from foreign governments. Most significantly, the court rejected the President’s argument that an emolument must be a profit arising from a profit or employ.
This was the third challenge to the suit by President Trump, all of which failed. As previously written in the IELR, “In Trump’s first challenge, the court found that the plaintiffs, the D.C. and Maryland governments, had standing based on proprietary, quasi-sovereign and parens patriae interests vis-à-vis the President’s undisputed ownership interest in the Trump International Hotel in Washington. In the second opinion, the court applied the term “emolument” and ruled that the President’s ownership interest in the Trump International Hotel and his apparent receipt of benefits from at least some foreign and state governments, as well as from the U.S. government itself, suggest that he has received “emoluments” in violation of the Constitution, giving rise to the lawsuit at hand.”
Previous evidence of President Trump’s violation of the Emoluments Clauses has been bolstered by new evidence regarding foreign economic involvement at the Trump Hotel. According to the Washington Post, Qorvis/MSLGroup, a firm which has long supported Saudi Arabia within the United States, spent almost $270,000 in total at the hotels and specifically spent significant funds to house US Military veterans who were lobbying against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which would have been highly costly and damaging to Saudi interests both domestically and globally. While the group claimed that they made the decision based upon the price of rooms, and not based on a desire to influence the president, it is easy to imagine a similar scenario in which the chief executive of the United States is unduly influenced by economic interest. Further, it is easy to mistrust the motives both of this Saudi group and of the President in a world where the murder of Jamal Khashoggi has been slowly swept under the rug by both parties. As the original February 23, 2018 filing for the District of Columbia and the State of Maryland vs. Donald Trump, one of two active law suits involving the emoluments clauses, states: “Whatever the sincerity of the persons involved, foreign and domestic officials are put in the position of considering whether offering benefits to businesses associated with the President is important to maintaining goodwill”.
It seems that, despite the seemingly damning claims made by the Inspector General’s report, there is little which will be done about the current Trump Hotel lease. Given the nature of the claims made within the report, as well as the existing evidence and lawsuits against President Trump, it is strange that more action has not been recommended by the Inspector General. It is further strange that the GSA is paying federal rangers to keep open the Old Post Office government building (which houses the Trump Hotel) while simultaneously claiming that this decision was “unrelated to the facility’s tenant”. Taken together, these facts suggest that no serious efforts will be made by the GSA to analyze or to correct any failings in the existing lease. The Inspector General, while publishing a damning report, has failed, in large part, to hold the GSA accountable for their present failings. If there is to be any changes made to the present situation, they will be made because of pressure from the lawsuit mentioned above.