Charles S. Clark | February 5, 2019 | 0 Comments

Republican Lawmakers Challenge GSA Watchdog's Trump Hotel Probe

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., was one of the lawmakers who wrote the letter. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., was one of the lawmakers who wrote the letter. Alex Brandon / AP

A group of four Republican lawmakers on Monday criticized an inspector general for a report issued last month concluding that the General Services Administration had neglected to consider all relevant legal issues when it approved President Trump’s special arrangement retaining his company’s lease for its Washington luxury hotel.

The unusual letter to GSA watchdog Carol Ochoa demanding internal documents was signed by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, joined by House Oversight and Reform Ranking Member Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Reps. Sam Graves, R-Mo., and Mark Meadows, R-N.C. Top Democrats on oversight panels were copied.  

"The GSA OIG report cited no evidence of improper interference in GSA's decision-making process concerning the Old Post Office Building” that since 2016 has housed the Trump International Hotel in a federally owned, historically protected building, the lawmakers wrote. “GSA OIG noted in the report that the objective was not to make a determination of any violation of the Constitution or the lease with Trump Old Post Office LLC, but rather, [GSA OIG] sought to determine whether there were any improprieties in GSA's decision-making process regarding these issues.” 

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However, the lawmakers continued, “the report includes a seven-page legal analysis of the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, without accounting for relevant positions taken by the Department of Justice in ongoing litigation” brought by multiple parties alleging that President Trump created a conflict of interest by not divesting himself from his company’s holdings on being elected president.

The letter asked, with a Feb. 18 deadline, for all documents “gathered, reviewed or used” in preparation of the January report, including transcripts of interviews, as well as a “personnel and time log” for all IG staff working on constitutional law issues. The Republicans also asked for “a complete description and accounts of how GSA OIG incorporated comments from GSA” in its final report, and “a complete description and account of its policies for issuing reports involving pending litigation matters.”

A spokeswoman for the inspector general told Government Executive the IG “has received the letter and will respond.”

In a related development, a nonprofit transparency group on Tuesday filed suit in U.S. district court against GSA and the National Park Service challenging another special arrangement in which GSA provided funds to the Park Service to keep the clock tower of the Old Post Office open to tourists during much of the recent 35-day government shutdown.

“GSA issued various statements concerning the Federal Buildings Fund and the use of funds not impacted by the shutdown to fund operations at the Old Post Office Tower, but it remains unclear why and by whom the decision was made to re-open the tower,” wrote American Oversight in a release. It noted that its Freedom of Information Act requests to GSA and NPS were ignored.

The suit seeks communications about the tower’s operations during the shutdown; communications with the Trump Organization or its representatives and records related to the funding source for the tower’s operations during the shutdown.

“The public should know,’ said the group’s executive director Austin Evers, “if the administration’s decision to fund a federal site connected to the president’s hotel is more than a coincidence.” 

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