Donald Trump should never have been allowed to keep ownership of his Washington, DC hotel during the presidency. A new report asserts that controls purported to curb potential corruption have completely failed. Trump exposed these flaws in the system. Congress must act now before they are exploited again.
This week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released a report concluding that the General Services Administration had completely failed.
This week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released a report concluding that the General Services Administration — the federal agency that oversees the Trump Organization’s lease of the old Post Office of the Trump International Hotel in Washington — has completely failed to prevent or even identify the potential. Legal and constitutional violations arising from Trump’s ownership of the hotel, which the committee said operated at a loss for 33 of the 53 months between September 2016 and January 2021.
According to lawmakers, the GSA has never verified whether Trump is complying with the emolument clauses of the Constitution, which prohibit a president from receiving payments or benefits from foreign and domestic governments. He never considered whether his reimbursements to the government for foreign government expenditures at the hotel were accurate or whether the hotel’s loans caused a conflict of interest. Even Trump’s political appointees at the GSA made decisions affecting the financial interest of Trump’s property, which was to be expected, with Trump primarily working as a landlord and tenant.
Representative Peter DeFazio, the committee chair, told NBC News that the report “highlights the GSA’s blatant mismanagement of the old Post Office lease and its attempt to evade its responsibility to uphold and defend the emolument clauses of the US Constitution.” (Trump has remained silent about the report so far.)
Here’s why it matters: The hotel was the epicenter of Trump’s graft. Anyone looking to win over their management can simply go to their namesake hotel two blocks from the White House and get paid fast.
On issues from taxation to environmental regulation to foreign policy, we never knew if the Trump administration was making decisions for the benefit of the American people or their bottom line. When Trump refused to take action after Saudi agents brutally murdered a US-based journalist, did that have anything to do with Saudi officials who paid thousands for Trump hotel rooms? When the Trump administration gave unprecedented business to private prison companies, was it because they held events on his property?
We can’t say we didn’t warn the GSA. My organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, sent them a letter seconds after Trump was sworn in, asking the agency to begin the process of finding Trump in violation of its lease, which he said could not be held by a government. official.
Instead, the General Services Agency turned a blind eye to the obvious problems in the contract it oversaw. Perhaps the watchdogs were too afraid to cross their politically appointed directors or the president himself. They fell into action. They should have done better, but it’s hard to ask bureaucrats to stand up to the weight of the leaders they report to.
We need stronger protection. There must be accountability for Trump’s continued and corrupt disregard for the Constitution, the law, and principles of morality. But we must also recognize that we can no longer count on the goodwill and adherence to the rule of law from those in our highest positions. Trump may return to this position in the future. Others who see what he got away with can follow suit. We need to strengthen our laws and institutions to protect against those who abuse and will redeem them.
The report recommends reforms including strengthening the scrutiny of the Public Security Agency and the inspector general and fortifying prohibitions on government leases for the benefit of senior government officials. These measures are important, and Congress must enact them. But as the commission also acknowledged, it is not enough. Congress should strengthen laws that prohibit out-of-control presidential corruption.
The Protect Our Democracy Act, passed by the House last week, includes provisions that enhance enforcement of bonus clauses and give more power to congressional oversight and more protections for inspectors general and whistleblowers. The Senate must pass it as quickly as possible. The “For the People” Act passed by the House of Representatives contains key ethical provisions that require presidents to sell any business they own before they take office. It’s up to the Senate to pass it, too.
Donald Trump has ridiculed the presidency and abused any moral code he could. We are still, years later, discovering just how bad these abuses can be — or they can be. Let’s make sure we don’t face this situation again.