A group of constitutional lawyers are after U.S. President Donald Trump over his operation of a hotel in Washington, D.C., citing clauses in its lease that he is supposedly violating by running both the hotel and the country.
It wasn't long after Trump clinched the presidency before his lease of the Old Post Office building came under fire. In November, a law professor at the George Washington School of Law cited clause 37.19 of the property's contract, which states: "No member or delegate to Congress, or elected official of the Government of the United States or the Government of the District of Columbia, shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease or to any benefit that may arise therefrom."
This seems like a violation of the contract, or at the very least an example of a conflict of interest, but Trump told The New York Times in November that the law is on his side. "I have a no conflict situation because I'm President," he said at the time. "It's a nice thing to have."
Historically, presidents have allocated their business interests under a blind trust while taking office, but by not doing so Trump has opened himself up to a large number of potential conflicts of interest that he will have to navigate over the coming months. In addition to lease clause, liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is alleging that, because the hotel takes in rent, room rentals and a number of other payments from foreign governments, the president is in breach of the previously mentioned clause 37.19, otherwise known as the Emoluments Clause, a second way. The clause has never been tested in court, but the year may begin with the president going to court over the lease because the group is demanding that Trump's business dealings with foreign interests cease.
The legal complaint put forth by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics includes mention that the clause "is no relic of a bygone era, but rather an expression of insight into the nature of the human condition and the preconditions of self-governance. And applied to Donald J. Trump’s diverse dealings, the text and purpose of the Foreign Emoluments Clause speak as one: this cannot be allowed."
As of Monday, the General Services Administration had not declared the Trump Organization in breach of the contract. In a white paper released in early January, Trump's lawyers stated that "the Constitution does that forbid fair-market-value transactions with foreign locals," countering statements made by the CRE and indicating they are in for a fight, which is not out of character for the sitting president.
Trump has since doubled down on his desire to keep the operations of his company in his family's hands. "I could actually run my business and run the government at the same time. I don't like way it looks, but I could. I could run Trump Organization," he said earlier this month.
The Trump International Hotel has had a rough journey to its opening in October 2016, and has been a legal minefield ever since it was proposed. Two star chefs backed out of the project during Trump's run for office, prompting the president to sue them both from the campaign trail. Since then, both chefs seem determined to meet the hotelier in court, though this time he is sending his wishes from the Oval Office.