Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), who was named to head a key subcommittee overseeing federal buildings on Thursday, will immediately use her new position to investigate the circumstances behind the deal that allows the president to run a Trump-branded hotel in D.C.’s Old Post Office Building, where lobbyists, foreign governments and corporate executives can put money in his pockets.
“The American people deserve a right to to know exactly how this contract works and how it was entered into and what the president’s obligations are,” Titus told HuffPost.
The problem at issue is a provision in the president’s lease with the General Services Administration that specifically says no elected officeholder can be a party to the lease. That clause is there to prevent the kind of corruption that can occur when a tenant is also the landlord. The Constitution’s emoluments clauses also prohibit federal officeholders from receiving payments or benefits from foreign governments, U.S. state governments or individual federal agencies. This anti-corruption provision is designed to prevent governments and governmental bodies from bribing federal officials.
“It is just plain wrong and unethical for you to use your role as president to allow lobbyists and foreign countries to try to in effect bribe you,” Titus said. “People don’t understand what the emoluments clause is because it’s not something you deal with every day, but they know what a bribe is ― and a bribe is a bribe is a bribe.”
The contract and the emoluments clauses would seem to present a problem for the president’s continued ownership of the hotel.
But GSA officials determined Trump was not in violation of his lease contract after he won the 2016 election. When considering that question, the agency’s lawyers also decided to ignore the emoluments clauses entirely, even though they knew the clauses presented a legal problem for the president, according to an inspector general investigation. That investigation concluded that these lawyers left a “constitutional cloud” over the Trump International Hotel in Washington when they chose to ignore the emoluments clauses.
Titus plans to hold hearings on the GSA’s handling of the president’s hotel lease from the time he announced his presidential candidacy until the agency said that he was not in violation of the lease contract. The subcommittee will seek all communications between the GSA and Trump, his family members, his employees, his presidential transition team and the White House.
She’ll start by calling GSA Administrator Emily Murphy in to testify. Murphy was appointed to lead the GSA after serving on Trump’s presidential transition team after the 2016 election.
Democratic lawmakers sent five letters to Murphy in search of answers about the GSA’s handling of the president’s lease contract over the previous two years. Murphy ignored all of their questions and refused to turn over documents because the requests did not come from the majority party. Now that Democrats are in charge, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House transportation committee, and Titus sent a new letter to Murphy on Jan. 22 demanding the administrator answer their questions and turn over the documents they requested.
People don’t understand what the emoluments clause is because it’s not something you deal with every day, but they know what a bribe is ― and a bribe is a bribe is a bribe. Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.)
Titus also plans to examine how Trump interfered in plans for the FBI to sell its antiquated office building in downtown Washington and move to the suburbs. An inspector general report found that the president intervened to stop the sale of the building and make the agency proceed with a more costly remodeling. It has been speculated that this presidential intervention occurred because the FBI Building is across the street from the Trump hotel and any new commercial development could be competition for the president’s business.
These investigations by Titus’ federal buildings subcommittee will run alongside other likely investigations into the president’s conflicts of interest that will be managed by the judiciary, foreign affairs and oversight committees.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said the FBI Building is across the National Mall from Trump’s hotel. It is across the street from it.