It’s the sparkling jewel in Donald Trump’s hotel empire. Securing the rights to use the government-owned building where it is housed took him over a year of negotiating. The resulting lease itself runs hundreds of pages, complicated and dreadfully dull
Dull that is until one gets to clause 37.19 on top of page 103, which has suddenly become the subject for discussion among experts on government contracting law, and not a few Trump critics.
FORCE TO SELL
If the experts are correct, the first 43 words of this clause could force Trump to surrender his equity stake in the Trump International Hotel just down the street from the White House. The key part: No “elected official of the Government of the United States” shall be “admitted to any share or part of this Lease.”
“He’s going to have to divest himself of the hotel,” said John Sindelar, a former senior adviser to the head of the General Services Administration, the government agency that negotiated the lease three years ago.
NOT ALL AGREE
Other contracting experts agreed, but not all. David Drabkin, once the GSA’s senior procurement officer, said he thinks the clause doesn’t apply to Trump because it only prohibits adding elected officials to the lease after it was signed, not banning original parties to it who subsequently get elected to office. He adds, though, that a president leasing the building is “absolutely untenable” because of other conflicts of interest issues.
The Trump Organization did not respond to emails asking for comment.
Whoever is correct, get ready for a battle over this issue.
TAKE HIM COMPLETELY OUT
On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that legal documents were being prepared that would “take me completely out of business operations,” but made no mention of selling his ownership interest. He has previously said that he planned to have three of his adult children run his business. Contract experts say that would likely fall short of meeting the requirement for holding on to the hotel lease.
Since his election, government ethics lawyers have been urging Trump to sell his assets and put the money in a blind trust controlled by an outside party, not his children. They say that is the only sure way to avoid conflicts between his pursuit of private profit and the public good.
DOES NOT APPLY
But aside from brow beating the president-elect, there is little critics can do. Federal conflicts of interest rule generally don’t apply to the president, a fact that Trump himself has emphasized.