WASHINGTON (CN) - Seventeen Democratic House members sued the General Services Administration Thursday to gain access to records related to the Trump Organization's lease on the luxury hotel located in the city's historic Old Post Office building.
In a complaint filed in the D.C. Federal Court the Democrats, all members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, claim that President Donald Trump has refused to divest his ownership interest in the hotel "even though the lease explicitly prohibits any 'elected official of the Government of the United States' from taking or sharing in any benefit that 'may arise' from the lease."
Trump is a partner in a Trump Old Office LLC, with his daughter Ivanka, and sons Donald Jr. and Eric.
"President Trump’s refusal to divest his ownership interest in a company that contracts with the federal government raises numerous issues requiring congressional oversight, including oversight of potential conflicts of interest, oversight of GSA’s interpretation of the contract requirements, and oversight of GSA’s ongoing management of the lease," the complaint says.
The plaintiff Democrats want to see the monthly financial reports the hotel is required to file with the administration, records of payments from the hotel’s foreign clients and details on how the agency decided to allow Trump’s company to retain the deal after he became president.
In their complaint, the plaintiffs evoke the 1928 “seven-member” statute, which mandates federal agencies produce documents requested by any seven members of the House Oversight Committee.
The committee is represented by David Vladeck of the Georgetown University Law Center.
“This hotel is not just a building with Donald Trump’s name on it,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member on the committee, said in a statement. “It is a glaring symbol of the Trump Administration’s lack of accountability and a daily reminder of the refusal by Republicans in Congress to do their job. This may be standard operating procedure in foreign countries — but not here. Not in America.”
A spokesman for the GSA said the agency does not comment on pending litigation, but in a lengthy March 23, 2017, response to letters from Donald Trump Jr., it said Trump Organization was in "full compliance" with the three-year-old lease.
In the letter, GSA contracting officer Kevin Terry wrote that reaching "simplistic 'black and white' conclusions regarding the meaning" of the contract's ban on elected officials was not appropriate.
He determined the lease is valid because Trump moved his interests in the building to a revocable trust, which is being managed by his oldest sons and other associates.
Trump is the sole beneficiary of that trust.
The plaintiffs were not satisfied for the agency's response.
“Following the inauguration of President Trump, GSA’s practice of honoring Seven Member Rule requests changed, but the rationale for the change has been shifting and contradictory,” the complaint says.
Trump signed a 60-year lease to open the hotel in the Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue in 2013. The building is owned by the federal government and managed by the GSA.
The Democrats say Acting GSA Administrator Timothy Horne, the named defendant in the case, has "deprived the plaintiffs of information to which they are entitled by law and thereby caused and continues to cause the plaintiffs serious, irreparable injury.”
They are asking the federal court to order Horne to give them immediate access to unredacted copies of the documents they seek.
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