President Trump’s blatant profiteering from his real estate empire during his presidency has raised concerns among government ethics officials who take the Constitution’s emoluments clause seriously.
Now, the scads of beaucoup bucks that the Trump Organization is making from both foreign and domestic customers eager to court favor with the president at its Washington DC Trump International Hotel may disappear after the Inspector General of the federal General Services Administration released a report that faulted the government agency — which is in charge of supervising the leases of federally-owned properties — for ignoring concerns that allowing Trump to keep the lease on the property might violate the Constitution.
According to an article in The Washington Post, after Trump was elected, the GSA needed to determine whether his real estate business — to which he temporarily handed day to day operations over to his sons — would be allowed to continue to hold the lease that had been negotiated years earlier.
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“At that time, the inspector general found,” according to The Post, “the agency should have determined whether the lease violates the Constitution’s emoluments clauses, which bar presidents from taking payments from foreign governments or individual U.S. states. But it did not, according to the report issued Wednesday.”
“We . . . found that [the agency] improperly ignored these Emoluments Clauses, even though the lease itself requires compliance with the laws of the United States, including the Constitution,” the report said.
Since that initial determination allowed the Trump Organization to maintain its lease, the Trump International Hotel has hosted a multitude of events for foreign embassies as well becoming the social hub for Republican politicians.
The conflict of interest inherent in having the president profit in violation of constitutional prohibitions has been the source of two major lawsuits — one from Congressional Democrats and a second from the Attorneys General of Maryland and Washington, D.C. — that call for the Trumps’ lease to be cancelled over the emoluments issue.
While the GSA’s Inspector General did not recommend in his report that the lease be immediately overturned, he did insist on a new legal review of the deal that could lead to its being revoked.
The GSA did simultaneously issue a letter along with the Inspector General’s report that claimed that the investigation failed to find that there had been any political pressure on the agency to let the newly elected President Trump to maintain his lease. The Inspector General’s probe, the GSA said, “found no undue influence, pressure or unwarranted involvement of any kind by anyone.”
The admission means that the agency had no excuse for their unfortunate decision that allowed Trump to personally profit in a manner that the founding fathers expressly forbade. Let’s hope that more diligence is applied in the new review and the president is forced to abide by the same standards as every other prior chief executive.
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Original reporting by Jonathan O’Connell . David A. Fahrenthold at The Washington Post