December 14, 2016 / 3:22 PM / in 7 months

Trump's Washington hotel a conflict of interest: Democratic lawmakers

4 Min Read

Flags fly above the entrance to the new Trump International Hotel on its opening day in Washington, DC, U.S. September 12, 2016.Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Donald Trump must divest his luxury Washington hotel in a building leased from the federal government because the arrangement violates conflict-of-interest rules, congressional Democrats said on Wednesday.

The General Services Administration, which manages property owned by the federal government, including the Old Post Office housing the Trump International Hotel, has said the lease would violate federal conflict-of-interest rules once the Republican businessman is sworn in on Jan. 20, according to a letter to the agency from lawmakers.

The letter referred to a Dec. 8 briefing to congressional staffers by a GSA official whom the letter did not name.

"The Deputy Commissioner made clear that Mr. Trump must divest himself not only of managerial control, but of all ownership interest as well," Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland and three other Democrats said in the letter, which was made public on Wednesday.

The hotel is a few blocks from the White House and has become a rallying point for anti-Trump protesters since it opened in September. It is among businesses that could create unprecedented conflicts of interest for Trump, a New York real estate developer and former reality TV star.

Trump's company has not responded to the GSA's concerns about the potential conflict, the Democratic lawmakers said. They asked the agency for documents about the lease, profit and expense projections and legal memos about the conflict of interest.

The hotel lease includes a standard GSA provision barring members of Congress or other elected federal officials - such as the president - from having any part of it.

Trump has said he will draw up documents that will remove him from day-to-day business operations. He had planned a Thursday news conference to disclose details, but put that announcement off until next month.

Trump will address the hotel issue in January, spokesman Jason Miller told reporters.

In response to the Democrats' letter, the GSA said in a statement it could not speak definitively about divestment until Trump's financial arrangements were completed and he had become president. The agency added, "To do so now would be premature."

Later on Wednesday, Cummings said Democrats still stood "100 percent behind" the letter, saying GSA informed their staff of the lease issue.

Federal law does not prohibit the president's involvement in private business while in office, even though lawmakers and executive branch officials are subject to conflict-of-interest rules.

But most presidents in recent decades have placed their personal assets in blind trusts so they do not know how their decisions influence their personal fortunes.

Trump has said he plans to avoid the conflict issue by transferring control of his businesses to his oldest three children.

But the U.S. Office of Government Ethics said in a letter to Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware on Monday that such a transfer would not qualify legally as a blind trust nor eliminate conflicts of interest.

Reporting by Ian Simpson and Emily Stephenson; editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis

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