WASHINGTON ― Democratic members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee filed a lawsuit on Thursday charging the Trump administration with refusing to release documents related to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
The lawsuit alleges that the General Services Administration, the agency that controls a large swath of federal properties including the Old Post Office building that houses the Trump hotel, did not comply with a statute known as the Seven Member Rule. That rule allows seven members of the oversight committee to request documents from a federal government agency.
Seven Democratic members of the committee sent a letter to the GSA on Feb. 8 requesting documents about the hotel’s finances. The goal was to determine if President Donald Trump was inappropriately profiting from his position in government through his hotel in D.C. The hotel initially failed to match its promised profit targets before the election, but reports after the election showed the hotel had dramatically increased profits. Both the Government Accountability Office and the GSA inspector general are investigating the propriety of the president’s hotel lease from the government.
“This hotel is not just a building with Donald Trump’s name on it,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the oversight committee, said. “It is a glaring symbol of the Trump Administration’s lack of accountability and a daily reminder of the refusal by Republicans in Congress to do their job. This may be standard operating procedure in foreign countries — but not here. Not in America.”
Democrats used the seven-member rule in December to request information on the hotel and the Obama administration. The Obama-era GSA complied with the request and released documents to the committee members. The Trump administration, however, stated that the seven-member rule did not apply and materials could only be requested through the committee chairman, which at the time was then-Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and now is Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).
The seven-member rule was used by Republicans in 1994 to obtain documents from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and by Democrats in 2002 to get materials related to the Census from the Department of Commerce.
Courts have issued opposing rulings on the validity of the seven-member rule. Democrats sued after the George W. Bush administration refused to comply with their request for Census documents in 2002. A judge found in favor of the Democrats and ordered that the documents be turned over to the committee based on the rule. A separate case in 2006, however, ended after a different judge denied standing to sue to the members who used the seven-member rule.
“We regret that we have to go to court to obtain these basic documents, which are clearly within our Committee’s jurisdiction,” Cummings said. “We would not be here today if Chairman Gowdy and his Republican colleagues would do their jobs. In my opinion, House Republicans are aiding and abetting President Trump’s ongoing abuses. Republicans are essentially walling off President Trump from credible congressional oversight.”