Oversight Dems Sue Trump Admin Over Trump DC Hotel Documents
By CAITLIN MACNEAL Published NOVEMBER 2, 2017 11:43 AM
The Democrats on the House Oversight Committee on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Trump administration over its refusal to share documents about President Donald Trump’s Washington, D.C. hotel.
“This hotel is not just a building with Donald Trump’s name on it,” House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings said in a statement announcing the lawsuit Thursday. “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.”
“We regret that we have to go to court to obtain these basic documents, which are clearly within our Committee’s jurisdiction,” Cummings added. “We would not be here today if Chairman Gowdy and his Republican colleagues would do their jobs. In my opinion, House Republicans are aiding and abetting President Trump’s ongoing abuses. Republicans are essentially walling off President Trump from credible congressional oversight.”
In the lawsuit, 17 Democratic members of the committee asked the court to compel the Trump administration to turn over the documents they have requested about the hotel’s operation and the General Services Administration’s oversight of the lease.
Since Trump took office, his hotel in Washington, D.C. has come under scrutiny from Democrats and outside groups who charge that the hotel presents a conflict of interest for the President. Democrats on the House Oversight Committee have sought information on payments to the hotel from foreign entities, which may violate the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution. Democrats have also argued that the hotel presents a conflict of interest for Trump since the lease appeared to prohibit an elected official from being a party to the lease, but the GSA ruled otherwise in March.
Democrats on the committee have sought documents on the Trump hotel from the GSA, but the administration has refused to comply with the requests, according to the complaint. The Obama administration provided minority members of the Oversight Committee with documents, including information on the Trump hotel. But the Trump administration has taken a different tack, the Democrats on the committee allege in the complaint.
In the lawsuit, the Democratic members argue that they have a right to obtain this information under the “Seven Member” statute, which states the federal government must turn over requested documents to any seven members of the House Oversight Committee. The statute has not been used frequently since it became law in 1928, but a district court judge ruled in 2002 that the Bush administration were required to turn over data to Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, based on the “Seven Member” rule. The federal government appealed the ruling, but the matter was resolved in a separate Freedom of Information Act case.
As the Democrats noted in their complaint, they have requested information from the GSA on the Trump hotel’s operating costs, the GSA’s correspondence with Trump’s company and information on the President’s potential conflict of interest as a party to the hotel lease. However, the GSA declined to share the documents several times, and ultimately told the committee Democrats in July 2017 that it would only comply with requests from the full committee or chairman, according to the complaint.
This decision from the GSA came after the administration said it would comply with a request from seven members of the committee in February 2017, per the complaint.
In the complaint, the Democratic members argue that they need the documents from the GSA in order to evaluate the GSA’s oversight of the lease, determine whether Trump is benefitting from the lease, and determine whether the Trump hotel has received payments from foreign entities.