GSA sidestepped Constitution by allowing Trump hotel lease, report contends

The inspector general for the General Services Administration (GSA) said the agency improperly ignored the Constitution’s emoluments provision outlawing foreign gifts when it approved President Trump’s management of his Washington hotel soon after his 2016 election.

The inspector general said in a report released Wednesday that the “president’s business interest” in the Trump International Hotel site at the Old Post Office building in Washington raises emolument issues that “might cause a breach of lease.”

The inspector general did not recommend canceling the lease but urged a formal legal review. The watchdog said GSA agreed with the recommendation.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, reacted with a statement to Fox News: “President Trump should not have any contracts with the federal government. It is an obvious conflict of interest, and it is why the lease for the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., explicitly prohibits any federal government official from being a party. This devastating new report from the inspector general is proof that President Trump should have divested his business interests rather than ignoring the advice of ethics experts.

"According to this report, GSA’s own lawyers recognized that President Trump’s interest in the Trump Hotel raised concerns under the emoluments clause of the Constitution and under the lease itself, but ‘punted’ rather than addressing them. I have been trying for years to get documents from GSA related to this issue, but they have refused to provide them, preferring instead to litigate the matter."

He added, "The Trump Hotel is a glaring physical symbol of the Trump administration’s refusal to play by the same rules as everyone else.”

A GSA spokesperson provided Fox News the letter the agency’s general counsel sent to the IG after getting the report earlier this month.

Jack St. John, general counsel for GSA, wrote that the IG did not find any actual emoluments-clause violations, or any knowledge that anyone was pressured in the evaluation of the Old Post Office building lease.

He also pointed out that much of the activity mentioned in the IG inquiry occurred under the previous administration, prior to Trump taking office.

St. John added that any discussion that the agency sought to protect Trump’s interests was “plainly meritless.”

The hotel site is owned by the federal government, and its lease has a clause barring any “elected official of the government of the United States” from deriving “any benefit.”

Fox News’ Sally Persons and  Mike  Emanuel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.