The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Congressional Republicans question report critical of Trump hotel lease

An official motorcade speeds down Pennsylvania Avenue past the International Trump Hotel in Washington in January. (Eva Hambach/AFP/Getty Images)

Leading congressional Republicans demanded Monday that an internal government watchdog who had issued a critical report related to President Trump’s luxury hotel in the District produce reams of documents to support her conclusions.

The letter, to the General Services Administration’s inspector general, was a clear signal that Trump’s allies in Congress plan to aggressively defend his business dealings as his company comes under increasing scrutiny by House Democrats and others.

The letter was penned by Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, and Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee.

It centered on a Jan. 16 report by inspector general Carol F. Ochoa criticizing the government’s decision-making that allowed Trump to keep the lease on the downtown Trump International Hotel, which is in a building owned by the GSA.

The report charged that the GSA “ignored” concerns that Trump’s lease of a government-owned building might violate the Constitution’s emoluments clauses, which bar presidents from taking payments from foreign governments or individual U.S. states.

Johnson and Jordan suggested that Ochoa’s office may have overstepped its bounds by studying whether the government had ignored the Constitution in reviewing Trump’s lease. They also questioned why Ochoa’s office failed to cite Justice Department arguments on the matter.

While the inspector general’s objective “was not to make a determination of any violation of the Constitution,” the lawmakers wrote, “the report includes a seven-page legal analysis of the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, without accounting for relevant positions taken by the Department of Justice in ongoing litigation.”

Also signing the letter were Reps. Sam Graves of Missouri and Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who hold key leadership posts overseeing the GSA.

The report has provided additional fodder for Democrats led by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), chair of the House Oversight Committee, who say they plan to investigate Trump’s business dealings.

Since Trump took office, the lease has also become a central argument in two court cases charging that Trump is violating the emoluments clauses by continuing to own his businesses while they do business with foreign and state governments.

In both cases, attorneys with the Justice Department, which is representing Trump, have argued that payments to the hotel and other businesses from foreign embassies — such as events paid for by the governments of Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia — do not constitute emoluments and thus are not violations of the Constitution.

This is not the first time congressional Republicans have come to Trump’s aid when he or his associates have come under fire from government investigators, and it could set the stage for more pitched battles when the House begins holding hearings this spring.

Jordan and Meadows were among the Republican lawmakers who last year tried to push Justice Department officials to release a highly sensitive document outlining the scope of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and related matters.

House Democrats are hoping to use their new majority to investigate Trump on a long list of issues that they say Republicans were negligent in ignoring when they held the majority. Republicans, in turn, may try to tag the inquiries as politically motivated and block certain aspects of them.

In their letter to the GSA inspector general, the Republicans also ask for a “complete description and account” of how the office incorporated comments from the GSA, a log of personnel and time spent on constitutional questions, and a “complete description and account of the GSA OIG’s policies for issuing reports involving pending litigation matters.”