The new chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee warned Thursday he could subpoena the General Services Administration if it doesn’t provide information about the Trump International Hotel’s lease of the Old Post Office building in Washington.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said in an interview that he wants the GSA to answer new questions after an inspector general report released Wednesday found that agency lawyers “ignored” constitutional concerns about President Donald Trump’s possible conflicts of interest when it allowed the luxury hotel to keep its lease after Trump was sworn in.
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“Obviously, my concerns were correct, that they had no legal basis on which to rule that a lease that says no elected official of the United States should benefit — they obviously had no legal basis for that — and they obviously didn’t analyze the emoluments clause and they’re clearly not tracking it,” he said.
The GSA refused last year to answer DeFazio’s questions about the lease’s possible violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clauses, which bar U.S. officials from accepting money from foreign governments. At the time, the agency said it would only respond to inquiries from the chairman of the full committee or a subcommittee. Now that DeFazio is chairman of the full committee, he has the authority to compel the agency to respond.
“They refused to answer my questions,” DeFazio said. “Now I’m the chairman, and I’m re-submitting those and supplementing those questions, too.”
“I look forward to their response, and I have tools if they won’t,” he added, in reference to his new subpoena power.
The potential subpoena is one of many that newly empowered House Democrats are considering, on issues ranging from foreign affairs to the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
The internal watchdog report issued Wednesday recommended that the agency conduct another legal review of the lease, which was first approved in 2013.
GSA General Counsel Jack St. John said he would honor that recommendation. But St. John pushed back on the suggestion that there was improper conduct surrounding the decision to maintain the lease on the historical landmark, noting that the inspector general report “does not find that any constitutional violation occurred.”
Specifically, the report said “all” of the lawyers reviewing the lease “agreed early on that there was a possible violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clauses,” but “decided to ignore the constitutional issues without preparing a formal decision memorandum to document the rationale for the position they were taking.”
Democratic lawmakers have spoken out against the arrangement, and the attorneys general of Washington, D.C., and Maryland filed a federal lawsuit in 2017 arguing that the lease violates the emoluments clauses of the Constitution.