When President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January, he apparently will violate the lease for his new hotel in Washington, adding to the growing list of conflicts of interest between his business enterprises and his duties as president.
The lease for the Trump International Hotel, housed in Washington’s historic Old Post Office Pavilion, which is owned by the General Services Administration, contains a clause forbidding elected officials from involvement, according to two experts. Trump, as president, essentially would be both landlord and tenant.
In an op-ed published Monday in Government Executive magazine, Steven Schooner and Daniel Gordon, former government officials who specialize in federal contract law, recommended that GSA “immediately end the hotel lease relationship, before Trump becomes president” to avoid ethics problems.
The Post Office Lease differs from many of Mr. Trump’s other business arrangements. That’s because, in writing the contract, the federal and D.C. governments determined, in advance, that elected officials could play no role in this lease arrangement. The contract language is clear: “No ... elected official of the Government of the United States ... shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom...”
The language could not be any more specific or clear. Donald Trump will breach the contract on Jan. 20, when, while continuing to benefit from the lease, he will become an “elected official of the Government of the United States.”
Schooner served as an associate administrator at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy in the Office of Management and Budget under President Bill Clinton. Gordon was that office’s chief administrator under President Barack Obama. Both now teach law at George Washington University, focusing on federal contract law, and in recent weeks, have been sounding the alarm about Trump’s potential ethics violations involving his new hotel.
The GSA and the Trump Organization in 2013 agreed to a $180 million lease over 60 years. As president, Trump would oversee the GSA and appoint its administrator ― a conflict of interest with his business.
GSA officials said they are looking into the matter, telling Government Executive that the agency “plans to coordinate with the president-elect’s team to address any issues that may be related to the Old Post Office building.”
The hotel, completed more than a year behind schedule, hosted several events during Trump’s campaign. In September, Trump held a press conference there, in which he finally acknowledged that President Barack Obama was born in the United States. In October, he held a glossy ribbon-cutting ceremony to commemorate the hotel’s grand opening, which doubled as a campaign event.
The hotel is just one of Trump’s businesses that may benefit from his presidency. Trump has said that he would place his businesses into a “blind trust” and that his children, who also have roles in his presidential transition team, would take over operations.
If the GSA enforces the lease by canceling it, the agency risks litigation.
“In the end, it’s just a frigging lease,” Schooner told The Huffington Post this month. “If GSA wants to terminate it tomorrow, the only thing Trump can do is sue and get money damages. That’s a price worth paying.”