December 14, 2016 / 3:23 PM / in a year

Trump's Washington hotel a conflict of interest: Democratic lawmakers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Donald Trump must divest his luxury Washington hotel in a building leased from the federal government because the arrangement violates conflict-of-interest rules, congressional Democrats said on Wednesday.

Flags fly above the entrance to the new Trump International Hotel on its opening day in Washington, DC, U.S. September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

The General Services Administration, which manages property owned by the federal government, including the Old Post Office that houses the Trump International Hotel, has concluded that the lease would violate federal conflict-of-interest rules once the Republican businessman is sworn in on Jan. 20, according to a letter to the agency from lawmakers.

The letter referred to a Dec. 8 briefing to congressional staffers by a GSA official whom the letter did not name.

“The Deputy Commissioner made clear that Mr. Trump must divest himself not only of managerial control, but of all ownership interest as well,” Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings and three other Democrats said in the letter, made public on Wednesday.

The hotel is a few blocks from the White House and has become a flashpoint for anti-Trump protests since it opened in September. It is part of a complex web of businesses that could create unprecedented conflicts of interest for Trump, a real estate developer and former reality TV star.

Trump’s company has not responded to the GSA’s concerns about the potential conflict, the Democratic lawmakers said. The agency has been dealing with Trump’s daughter Ivanka about the lease, even as she acts as a presidential transition team official, they said.

The Democratic lawmakers asked the GSA for documents about the hotel’s lease, profit and expense projections and legal memos about the potential conflict of interest.

Spokesmen for Trump and for the GSA did not respond to requests for comment.

Trump has said he will draw up legal documents that will remove him from day-to-day business operations. He had planned a Thursday news conference to disclose details of this plan but said this week he would put that announcement off until next month.

Federal law does not prohibit the president’s involvement in private business while in office, even though members of Congress and lower-ranking executive branch officials are subject to strict conflict-of-interest rules.

But most presidents in recent decades have placed their personal assets, including property and financial holdings, in blind trusts overseen by independent advisers to avoid any appearance of impropriety. Under a blind trust, the owner has no say or knowledge in how the assets are managed.

Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Von Ahn

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