Federal agency ignored constitutional concerns in Trump hotel lease, report finds

By Grace Segers

/ CBS News

Barr questioned about recusal

A new report from the General Services Administration (GSA) Office of the Inspector General found that the GSA "improperly ignored" concerns that President Trump's lease on the government-owned Old Post Office, which houses the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C., might violate the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution when it allowed him to keep the lease after taking office.

Mr. Trump obtained the lease to the Old Post Office years before becoming president. When he was elected, it was the responsibility of the GSA to decide whether he would be able to keep his lease. Although attorneys at the GSA "all agreed early on that there was a possible violation of the Constitution's Emoluments Clauses," according to the report, they nonetheless "decided to ignore the emoluments issues."

The Emoluments Clause of the Constitution prevents any public official from accepting "any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State."

"If 'emoluments' include an official's gains from private business activities, the President's interest in the lease raises at least potential constitutional issues," the OIG report said. However, the report notes, the GSA decided to "punt" on the issue when considering allowing Mr. Trump to keep the lease.

"GSA's analysis should have considered whether the Foreign Emoluments Clause or the Presidential Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution barred the President's business interest in Tenant," the report said, adding that GSA attorneys also "improperly ignored these Emoluments Clauses, even though the lease itself requires compliance with the laws of the United States, including the Constitution."

The report did not recommend that Mr. Trump's lease be canceled, but recommended a new legal review of the deal. The GSA has already agreed to the recommendation, according to the report.

First published on January 16, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Grace Segers

Grace Segers is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.

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