The government agency charged with overseeing federal leases has “no idea” how much money foreign governments or their officials have spent at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., according to the head of the General Services Administration (GSA).
Testifying before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee about the GSA’s oversight of the property, GSA Administrator Emily W. Murphy said she was only aware of what’s been reported in the news.
“The only thing I know is what I’ve read in the paper,” the Trump appointee responded when asked about the amount of money foreign governments have spent at the Old Post Office Building, which is owned by the federal government and leased to the Trump Organization.
“This is a remarkable lack of curiosity on the part of GSA,” a visibly perturbed Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) said in response to Murphy.
Murphy’s comments renewed concerns over the potential conflicts of interest and ethical issues presented by the private profits the president derives through the patronage of foreign governments, a business model which many Democrats contend violates the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“The Trump Organization is violating the law, and the Trump administration is letting them get away with it,” Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) told Yahoo News after the hearing. “It’s an obvious conflict of interest. The potential transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars into the president’s pocket creates even more legal and ethical issues that the Trump administration is desperate to ignore.”
Several lawmakers and private entities have sued President Trump, contending that the business arrangement between the president’s private business and the federal government violates the Emoluments Clause.
Jennifer Ahearn, the policy director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)–a government ethics watchdog group responsible for filing one of the emoluments lawsuits currently being adjudicated–said Murphy’s testimony about GSA’s lack of oversight was not surprising.
“GSA has repeatedly refused to acknowledge the Trump family’s and Trump Organization’s conflicts of interest in maintaining a lease at the Old Post Office building,” Ahearn told Yahoo News. “Her admission that GSA has not looked into whether the Trump Organization has done business with foreign governments is unsurprising given GSA’s inaction to address the ethics concerns that were clear before Donald Trump even assumed the presidency.”
Murphy also testified that she had not read the legal memorandums submitted by GSA’s legal office concerning the propriety of the Trump Organization’s 100-year lease. The GSA has refused to comply with an October subpoena issued by House Democrats demanding access to the legal memos as well as any “unredacted documents and communications” between the agency and the Trump Organization.
Murphy said the memos were “highly deliberative in nature and contain attorney-client communications that implicate core confidentiality interests of the executive branch.”
A GSA spokesperson earlier this month told the Federal News Network that the agency was in the process of responding to the committee’s request and disputed claims that they had tried to “stonewall access to the majority of relevant documents.”
[image via Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images]