Friday, September 29, 2023
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Trump hotel record intrigue sets up high court showdown

A controversy involving the former president's stake in a hotel near the White House implicates the authority of Congress to sue the federal government. 

WASHINGTON (CN) — A fight over Trump International Hotel records is at the center of a new case the Supreme Court agreed to hear Monday that could decide the ability of lawmakers to sue the federal government. 

Located on Pennsylvania Ave between the White House and the Capitol, the hotel came under scrutiny for allowing donors, lobbyists and even foreign governments to spend money directly linked to the former president. Donald Trump’s unprecedented decision not to divest from his business interests led lawmakers to question if any of the hotel’s guests were trying to curry favor with the president while he was in office. Last year documents revealed that six foreign countries spent more than $700,000 at the hotel during Trump’s first two years in office. 

In 2016, Representative Elijah Cummings, then ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, invoked a nearly century-old statue to request documents from the General Services Administration related to Trump’s lease and expense reports from the hotel. GSA provided lawmakers with unredacted documents in 2017. 

Shortly after, Trump announced his intention not to divest from his companies, including the Washington hotel. Cummings followed up with the GSA to ask how the government intended to handle the unprecedented situation. Among other requests, lawmakers wanted access to monthly reports that Trump’s company submitted to the government on the hotel’s revenues and expenses, as well as communications between the company and Trump’s transition team. 

The government declined to cooperate with Cummings' second request, stating lawmakers had not met the guidelines of the almost centuryold statute. Referred to as the Seven Member Rule, the statute gives any seven members of the House Oversight Committee the right to request and receive information from executive agencies within the committee’s jurisdiction. When Cummings sent his first request to GSA, he was joined by 10 other lawmakers. His second request included only three other members of the House. 

Cummings gathered additional lawmakers to meet the requirement and sent an additional letter to the agency. GSA did not respond to lawmakers’ requests directly, instead publicly releasing a letter sent to one of Trump's children, Donald Trump Jr., stating the company was in compliance with the lease terms. This reasoning was based on the fact that the president had placed his income from the hotel into trusts and could not directly receive any income from the hotel during his presidency. 

In June 2017, Cummings renewed the effort to obtain documents from the Trump hotel. He and 16 other lawmakers asked for information about funds received from foreign countries. The new letter also claimed GSA had violated the statute by not responding to prior requests for information. 

Following another letter sent after the government ignored their request, GSA told Cummings his request would be denied because individual members of Congress do not have the authority to conduct oversight without specific delegation. 

Cummings and other members sued the government, but a federal judge dismissed the case, siding with GSA's argument that the lawmakers lacked standing to sue. The D.C. Circuit, however, reversed. 

The Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to review the appeals court ruling, arguing it gave individual members authority to sue federal agencies for failing to disclose information. 

“That decision conflicts with this Court’s precedents and contradicts historical practice stretching to the beginning of the Republic,” U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote. “The decision also resolves exceptionally important questions of constitutional law and threatens serious harm to all three branches of the federal government.” 

An attorney for the lawmakers, David Vladeck, who also teaches at Georgetown University, called the case a “legal unicorn.” 

“GSA’s fears of abusive litigation do not justify review, either,” Vladeck wrote. “There is no flood of cases under Section 2954, ‘[o]r even a puddle.’”  

Two years after leaving office, Trump sold the Washington hotel to a Miami-based investor fund. The reported $375 million sale was said to create a $100 million profit for the former president's business.

Monday's order list from the Supreme Court also accepted challenges to sentencing guidelines under the Armed Career Criminal Act. Justin Rashaad Brown is challenging his sentence for a drug possession conviction. The sentencing court applied an ACCA enhancement to Brown’s sentence for possessing marijuana. Brown claims this shouldn’t be allowed since Pennsylvania marijuana conviction can’t count as serious drug offenses under the law because the state forbids conduct that the federal government does not. 

Brown's case was consolidated with a similar petition from Eugene Jackson, who argues he should not qualify for ACCA guidelines because, at the time of his crime, the element of cocaine he possessed was not a federally controlled substance. 

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Categories / Appeals, Business, Government, Politics

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