Government agency admits it's not monitoring foreign spending at Trump hotel

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Foreign governments may be personally enriching Donald Trump by staying at the Trump International Hotel, which the Trump Organization runs through a lease from the GSA.

The head of the Government Services Agency (GSA) admitted Tuesday morning that she had no idea how much money foreign governments were spending at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and had not bothered to find out.

GSA Administrator Emily Murphy's comments came in response to questions from Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) during an Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management subcommittee hearing.

"Could you please confirm for the record that the GSA has no idea whatsoever as to how much spending by foreign governments accounts for the income and profits at the Trump Hotel?" Garamendi asked.

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"That's correct, sir," Murphy said, adding that she only knew what she had read in newspapers.

Garamendi then asked if Murphy had "made any attempt to request information" from the Trump Organization "regarding foreign spending" at the D.C. hotel. She replied that she had not.

When asked why she had not attempted to access that information, given she had sworn an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, Murphy, who was appointed to her position by Donald Trump, argued that the Justice Department had already cleared the hotel of any potential emoluments clause violations.

The Trump Hotel is located in the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue, just blocks from the White House. The federal government owns the building and awarded the Trump Organization a lease in 2013 to renovate the property and turn it into a hotel. The lease, which is administered by the GSA, runs a total of almost 100 years, according to the Wall Street Journal.

At the heart of Garamendi's questions is the Constitution's emoluments clause, which prevents a president from accepting "any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State" without Congress' consent.

An Inspector General (IG) investigation last year revealed that the GSA failed to take the emoluments clause into account when allowing the Trump Organization to maintain its lease on the building after Trump was elected in 2016.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) noted on Tuesday that the GSA had apparently chosen to ignore that investigation "by refusing to implement the IG's recommendation" from a year earlier.

"This leads me to question whose interests GSA is serving—the Trump Organization or the American public?" he said.

Trump did not divest from his business ventures upon taking office, as other presidents have done in the past, allowing him to benefit from profits generated by the Trump Hotel. According to the watchdog group Public Citizen, that decision has created "a unique ethical minefield," as foreign governments may seek to influence Trump and his family by staying at the hotel.

Trump claims that a yearly check from the Trump Organization to the U.S. Treasury for all profits from foreign governments is enough to satisfy the Constitution, but scholars question the methodology of the payments.

According to Public Citizen, officials from 16 different foreign governments have stayed at the Trump Hotel since he was elected, including representatives from Pakistan, Nigeria, Turkey, Kuwait, India, the Philippines, Greece, Qatar, and Malaysia. In one instance, Kuwait moved its annual independence day celebration from the Four Seasons to the Trump Hotel shortly after Trump was elected, showering the Trump organization with tens of thousands of dollars in business.

In October 2019, the Trump Organization announced its intention to sell the remaining time on the hotel's lease. Part of the Trump Organization sales brochure for the property, according to DeFazio, notes that "potential exists for a new owner to fully capitalize on government related business."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.