A group comprising 22 nonprofit organizations, liberal advocates, professors and ethical experts have written the inspector general of the General Services Administration — the agency that manages the lease for the Trump International hotel — asking that she review the recent decision by the agency to allow the president’s company to keep the lease while he is in office.
The letter’s signors include the Center for American Progress, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Public Citizen, Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation, as well as ethics officials from the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.
“Preventing conflicts of interest is imperative to ensuring that taxpayer-owned buildings are not used to inappropriately provide private benefits to government officials at the public’s expense,” they wrote.
Trump’s company operates from the federally owned Old Post Office Pavilion, which his company leases from the GSA despite a clause in the agreement barring any “elected official of the government of the United States” from deriving “any benefit” from the contract.
Last week, the GSA informed Eric Trump, the son of the president who overseeing the hotel, that the Trump Organization met the terms of the lease because the president had resigned from a formal position with the company and the organization had restructured an internal operating agreement so he received no direct proceeds from the D.C. hotel business while in office. The lease agreement was signed in 2013, well before Trump won election in November.
Leading Democrats on Capitol Hill have previously pressed the agency’s inspector general, Carol F. Ochoa, to step in. She said she was monitoring the issue.
Appointed to the post by then-president Barack Obama in 2015, Ochoa leads an agency with a mission to “detect and deter waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct and to promote economy and efficiency in GSA operations.”
Liz Kennedy, director of democracy and government reform for the left-leaning Center for American Progress, said the GSA’s decision to clear the lease while the president oversees the agency warranted further inspection.
“The role of an inspector general is to make sure their agencies are carrying out their missions appropriately and we feel clearly here that the incorrect decision was made,” Kennedy said. “So we hope she would do her job responsibility.”
A spokeswoman for Ochoa declined to comment.
Current and former GSA officials have suggested that terminating the 60-year lease could leave taxpayers vulnerable to a lawsuit seeking tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. The GSA’s letter to Eric Trump repeatedly cited the financial benefits of the deal, including $3 million in annual rent payments to the government.
Kennedy argued that the language in the clause prohibiting elected officials “is just bright as day” and that collecting rent on the project was not a reason to ignore the issue.
“Fearing the consequences of upholding the rule of a law is not a reason to fail to uphold the rule of law,” she said.
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