Seventeen Democratic members of the House of Representatives sued the General Services Administration on Nov. 2 over the agency’s refusal to provide documents regarding Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
The House members said they repeatedly requested documents, which the GSA is legally required to provide, regarding the financial history of the Trump Hotel, located in the Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue. The members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform also requested records of payments the Trump Hotel received from foreign clients.
The GSA, which owns the Old Post Office Pavilion, signed a lease with the Trump Organization in June 2013 that allowed the company to transform the historic building into a luxury hotel. The hotel opened in September 2016 during the presidential campaign.
The lease prohibits any “elected official of the government of the United States” from profiting from the Trump Hotel. It also requires the Trump Organization to provide monthly statements about the finances and operations of the hotel.
The members are seeking to determine “whether the Office of the Presidency is being used for private gain,” according to a committee press release.
In their complaint, the 17 plaintiffs said that Trump’s refusal to give up ownership of the hotel not only violates the terms of the lease but also presents a conflict of interest for the president.
“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 committee wrote in its complaint.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat in the House Oversight Committee, said that Republicans in Congress have failed to exercise proper oversight over the Trump administration.
Under the Seven Members Statute, federal agencies are required to submit information to the House Oversight Committee if at least seven of the committee members request the information. Cummings said the members sued after the GSA refused to obey the Seven Member Statute.
“Under the previous administration, this exact same agency—GSA—explicitly recognized our authority under this exact same statute—the Seven Member statute—and produced documents on this exact same issue—the Trump Hotel. But all that stopped on Jan. 20,” Cummings wrote in a statement. “There is one thing, and one thing only, that has changed in this case—President Trump is now sitting in the Oval Office.”
The 17 Democrats said the reasoning behind the GSA’s noncompliance with the Seven Members Statute is unclear.
“Following the inauguration of President Trump, GSA’s practice of honoring Seven Member Rule requests changed, but the rationale for the change has been shifting and contradictory,” they wrote.
Pam Dixon, a spokesperson for the GSA, wrote in an email to The Hoya that the “GSA does not comment on pending litigation.”
The House Democrats are not alone in worrying about the relationship between the Trump Hotel and the office of the presidency.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, an organization that uses legal means to demand governmental transparency, also filed a suit against the Trump Organization for accepting payments from foreign governments or officials in November 2016. The attorneys general of D.C. and Maryland filed a lawsuit against the hotel over foreign payments to the Trump Hotel in June this year.
The lawsuit is set to be litigated in the District Court for Washington, D.C.