When Donald Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20, he will likely be in violation of the lease agreement he made with the federal government to open the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. At least, that’s what House Democrats say the Government Services Administration (GSA) told them.
Four prominent House Democrats released a letter Wednesday morning saying that the GSA — owner of the Old Post Office building, which Trump transformed into a luxury hotel — told them last week that “Mr. Trump will be in breach of the lease agreement the moment he takes office on January 20, 2017.”
A GSA spokesperson disputed that characterization, however, and told VICE News the agency “can’t make a definitive statement at this time about what would constitute a breach of the agreement, and to do so now would be premature.”
The contested portion of the lease states that “no member or delegate to Congress, or elected official of the Government of the United States … shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.”
That last clause could complicate the matter.
In their letter, the House Democrats wrote that the GSA believes Trump “must divest himself not only of managerial control but of all ownership interests as well” to avoid violating the lease agreement. It’s unclear how Trump would be able to divest himself from an ownership interest in the hotel without either divesting himself from the Trump Organization or cancelling the lease altogether.
The GSA spokesperson said the agency hasn’t taken a position on how Trump could avoid violating the lease and will wait to review the agreement after he takes office. While the House Democrats said Trump’s transition team has not contacted the GSA yet, his team told journalists on a conference call Wednesday that Trump would settle this issue along with his other potential conflicts of interest in a January press conference.
Trump had previously scheduled the press conference for Thursday, Dec. 15, but pushed it back at least a month, prompting speculation that he may not resolve lingering conflicts of interest before taking office.
Trump in 2012 won the bid to control the building for 60 years and frequently boasted about it during the presidential campaign. Two weeks before Election Day, Trump paused his campaigning in contested swing states to cut the ribbon at the hotel’s grand opening.
Under normal circumstances, the GSA would send a letter to any lessee in violation of a contract and give them 30 days to respond. The agency would then take the dispute to the U.S. Civilian Board of Contract Appeals. Trump has been famously litigious during his career and has dozens of open lawsuits, and if the GSA decides to pursue the hotel issue, he’ll be fighting it as a sitting president.