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The Government Must Stop Withholding Trump Hotel Documents

The Trump International Hotel has become a watering hole for those seeking to influence the Trump administration.

This hotel, which opened before last year’s election, was constructed in a public building, the Old Post Office, and has created the highly unusual situation of a  president deriving financial benefit from a business located just blocks from the White House.

As a result, the public has the right to know the terms of the deal with Trump Old Post Office LLC, a company owned by the Trump family from which the president has refused to divest ownership since taking office.

That’s why 17 members of Congress are challenging a decision by the U.S. General Services Administration to withhold documents relating to President Donald Trump’s lease on a federal building,  said in a lawsuit filed Nov. 2. Public Citizen’s Litigation Group is joining with its former director, Georgetown Law Professor David Vladeck, as co-counsel for the members.

“If the administration can ignore legal requirements that hold it accountable to congressional oversight, abuses of power are sure to follow,” said Public Citizen attorney Scott Nelson. “There couldn’t be a clearer illustration than GSA stonewalling to cover possible financial conflicts of interest by the Trumps.”

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The members are seeking to enforce their requests for documents from GSA Acting Administrator Timothy Horne relating to the agency’s 2013 lease agreement with Trump Old Post Office LLC.

The lawmakers’ information requests are part of their oversight over GSA’s handling of potential conflicts of interest between Trump’s job as president and his role as a hotel owner.

The GSA has refused to provide the documents even though a federal law commonly called the “Seven Member Rule” requires executive agencies to provide information in response to requests joined by at least seven members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The lawmakers, including ranking member U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), are requesting the court to compel the agency to comply with its mandatory duties under that law.

“President Trump’s refusal to divest his ownership interest in a company that contracts with the federal government raises numerous issues requiring congressional oversight, including oversight of potential conflicts of interest, oversight of GSA’s interpretation of the contract requirements and oversight of GSA’s ongoing management of the lease,” the complaint (PDF) states. GSA’s refusal to comply with the Seven Member Rule since Trump’s election and its “shifting and contradictory” excuses for its noncompliance impede the members’ oversight functions, the lawsuit maintains.