(Bloomberg)—Democrats on the House Oversight Committee are preparing to sue the head of the government agency that oversees the lease for the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., for allegedly refusing to hand over documents, according to a copy of the complaint.
The 17 lawmakers say in the suit that General Services Administration Acting Administrator Timothy Horne has refused to comply with mandatory requests for documents, including unredacted monthly income statements for the hotel, which is in a former post office owned by the federal government.
President Donald Trump owns approximately 77 percent of Trump Old Post Office LLC, which pays the government $3 million annually in rent for the renovated 1899 Romanesque Revival-style building, according to disclosures by GSA. Just blocks from the White House, the 263-room facility become a focal point for questions about whether domestic interests and even foreign countries are patronizing Trump’s businesses in an attempt to curry favor with him.
"This hotel is not just a building with Donald Trump’s name on it," said Elijah Cummings, the panel’s top Democrat, in prepared remarks on the suit. "It is a glaring symbol of the Trump administration’s lack of accountability."
The lawmakers requested documents under the "Seven-Member Rule," a 1928 law they argued enables any seven members of the oversight panel to demand documents from any executive agency. The Democrats filed the suit in federal court in Washington.
Horne, who took over the GSA post in January, has previously said the agency would honor the rule, but he hasn’t produced the documents that the lawmakers have demanded, the complaint alleges.
Courts have been divided in their interpretation of the little-invoked and rarely litigated law. In 2002, Democratic members of the oversight committee sued the administration of President George W. Bush for documents related to the census. A U.S. court in California found in favor of the Democrats and upheld the law. Four years later, though, when Democrats filed a similar lawsuit in the same court, a different judge ruled that they didn’t have standing to sue.
Cummings’s remarks imply that the committee’s GOP majority could use its subpoena power to get the documents, but "Republicans are essentially walling off President Trump from credible congressional oversight."
A GSA spokeswoman said in March that the agency “has responded, consistent with the law, to congressional requests for documents and information.” Under President Barack Obama’s administration, the agency released to congressional Democrats a limited set of monthly statements, which showed the hotel lost almost $1.2 million during its first two months of operation, which occurred before the election. Trump’s company had projected $397,000 in net income for the period, which was September and October 2016.
Profit vs. Loss
A later set of statements posted briefly to GSA’s website, and then removed, showed the hotel made $2 million through April, despite Trump’s company predicting a loss, according to the Washington Post. GSA also posts redacted statements under Freedom of Information laws.
The Democrats are also seeking documents pertaining to a March assessment by the agency that Trump wasn’t in violation of its lease despite a clause that bans an "elected official of the Government of the United States" receiving the benefits of the agreement. In December, four Democrats, including Cummings and another party to Wednesday’s suit, said that the Obama-era leadership of the agency had told them Trump would need to divest to be in compliance with the lease once he became president. GSA described the conclusion as "premature."
Trump’s lawyers argued to GSA that Trump’s placing of his assets in a trust controlled by his older sons addressed concerns about any conflicts. They have also said he didn’t violate the lease because he wasn’t an elected official when it was signed in 2013.
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