Feds punted on whether Trump's best money-making scheme is even legal


A government watchdog found that the agency that said Trump's D.C. hotel lease was just fine never bothered to look at the Constitution.

From day one, it appeared that Trump's continued ownership of his D.C. hotel could present a violation of the Emoluments Clause. Now, a government watchdog has called out the General Services Administration (GSA) for ignoring that very issue.

The Emoluments Clause prohibits the president from profiting from any dealings with foreign governments. Therefore, Trump retaining ownership of a hotel that routinely houses foreign dignitaries would seem to run afoul of that clause.

Housing foreign dignitaries seems to be the only way the hotel does stay profitable. The hotel went into the black earlier this year thanks to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia having several members of his delegation stay there.

There's also the problem of the hotel's lease. The Old Post Office, which houses the hotel, is leased to the Trump Organization by the GSA. That would have been fine, had Trump not become president. The lease specifically prohibits any elected official from sharing in any part of the lease.

On its face, it seemed clear that Trump couldn't continue to run his hotel, both because the lease would prohibit it and because he'd be profiting off members of foreign governments staying at the hotel. Weirdly, however, the GSA concluded that everything was just fine.

Except it wasn't. The GSA's Office of the Inspector General reviewed the deal and found that the GSA never considered whether the arrangement violated the Emoluments Clause. The GSA lawyers who reviewed the deal simply refused to consider the issue because it was a constitutional issue, and they thought that was outside their purview.

They literally said they didn't want to "spin their wheels" thinking about it and figured they could address the issue at another time. Even worse, the GSA attorneys said there might really be a violation of the Emoluments Clause, but they decided to "punt" the issue.

That didn't fly with the inspector general, who pointed out that the GSA is obliged to uphold the Constitution, just like everybody else, and therefore they needed to address it.

This isn't the only Emoluments Clause issue Trump faces. There's an ongoing lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of Washington D.C. and Maryland, alleging that Trump's hotel is siphoning business away from other hotels in the area.

There's also the part where domestic companies, seeking to curry favor with Trump, stay at his hotel when they have business before the government.

Sadly, the Inspector General report doesn't say that the lease should be voided, but only that the GSA should reconsider the constitutional issues. It doesn't look like the GSA plans to do that. They issued a response in which they patted themselves on the back for the fact the report didn't find that any constitutional violations had occurred, but instead that it was merely possible.

It looks like the GSA is going to continue to punt on this issue, which isn't surprising since they make $3 million per year from the lease. But the rest of us know that this Trump is profiting from the presidency in obscene and unprecedented ways — and it's probably illegal too.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.