President-Elect Donald Trump will violate his lease agreement with the government for his luxury hotel in Washington, D.C. unless he fully divests his ownership in the property before he takes office, said Democratic lawmakers who were briefed by the government landlord of the property.
The hotel, which opened this year in a swanky downtown-Washington building, is owned by the federal government. Trump signed a lease to take over the building in 2013, but now, with his inauguration weeks away, the business arrangement is raising questions about conflicts of interest.
A provision in Trump's lease with the government's General Services Administration (GSA) indicates that elected officials cannot benefit from the lease.
"No member or delegate to Congress, or elected official of the Government of the united States... shall by admitted to any share or part of the this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom," the lease reads.
According to Democratic lawmakers, the GSA Deputy Commissioner said in a staff briefing that as the elected president of the United States, Trump would breach his contract by continuing to own his stake in the hotel.
"The Deputy Commissioner informed our staff that GSA assesses that Mr. Trump will be in breach of the lease agreement the moment he takes office on January 20, 2017, unless he fully divests himself of all financial interests in the lease for the Washington D.C. hotel," said Democratic Reps. Elijah Cummings, Gerald E. Connolly, Peter DeFazio and André Carson in a letter.
A spokesperson for the GSA appeared to dispute the lawmakers' account, saying the GSA had not made an assessment as to whether Trump would violate the contract.
"GSA does not have a position that the lease provision requires the President-elect to divest of his financial interests. We can make no definitive statement at this time about what would constitute a breach of the agreement, and to do so now would be premature," the spokesperson said.
Critics say Trump's hotel property is a potential stew of conflicts of interest. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, reserved a conference space at the hotel, as did the Azerbaijani embassy. Unless he divests his assets, Trump could make a profit on any visits to the hotel as president. Watchdogs say that will encourage favor-seekers.
The property has also raised questions about Trump controlling the federal government and at the same time leasing one of its properties.
"T he president of the United States cannot be landlord and tenant on a business like this," said Steve Schooner, a professor of government procurement law at the George Washington University Law School.
Records released to BuzzFeed appear to show Trump owns a 77% stake in the hotel, while his children Don, Eric and Ivanka own the remainder. Trump has delayed a press conference on his business interests originally scheduled for Thursday. He tweeted that "No new deals will be done" during his time in office, though he has not clarified that statement or said whether he would divest his businesses.