Why would Trump’s landlord care whether his tenant is an elected official or not? Because: The “landlord” in this case is the federal government. Trump’s International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue — the same one that foreign diplomats are throwing money at in hopes of buttering up the president-elect — used to be the Old Post Office, headquarters for the U.S. Postal Service. In 2013, Trump’s group signed a 60-year lease with the General Services Administration to turn the building into a hotel. The clause in the lease was designed, obviously, to avoid any conflict-of-interest problems with federal officials, lest the public think they were getting preferential treatment or some sort of sweetheart deal on the rent from the GSA due to political connections.
— Rebecca Berg (@rebeccagberg) November 29, 2016
The first move Trump’s lawyers will make, I’m sure, is to argue that he wasn’t an elected official at the time the lease was signed, which is what should be important. If the initial transaction was arm’s-length, what does it matter if he’s an elected official now and locked into its terms? It says that no official shall be “admitted” to the lease or its benefits; has Trump already been “admitted” or does his inauguration as president somehow “re-admit” into the lease? Imagine how awkward it would be if a dispute arises under the lease between Trump’s company and the feds. On one side of the table: Donald Trump. On the other side of the table: The GSA, whose chief administrator will have been appointed by, er, Donald Trump. Same deal if you want the clause removed from the lease entirely. Trump’s GSA would need to agree to that. See why people might worry that any disagreement will be resolved to the financial benefit of Donald Trump?
No problem, though — Trump will be turning over his businesses to his kids, right? Soon he’ll have removed himself from the Trump Organization and it’ll be Ivanka et al. who are on the other side of the table from … Donald Trump’s GSA. How’s that going to work?
Even if Trump does hand over all his business dealings to his children, these negotiations could still present a problem.
Schooner says, for example, the complicated contract requires that each year Trump disclose financial information, after which the GSA is supposed to sit down and negotiate an adjustment in the rent, which is currently $3 million per year.
“Some civil servant at GSA is going to sit down with the president of the United States’ children to negotiate adjustments to a multimillion-dollar lease on an annual basis. That’s incomprehensible,” he says.
Meanwhile, as we hash out delicate questions of civic governance like “Is it technically self-dealing if the president is negotiating with his daughter over the family business?”, here’s what’s going on at the hotel in question:
The Kingdom of Bahrain will observe its 45th national day at President-elect Donald Trump’s new Washington, D.C., hotel.
Bahrain will hold a reception next Wednesday at Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, according to an invitation from the country’s embassy obtained by POLITICO on Tuesday.
If there’s something familiar about that, it’s probably the fact that we found out a few months ago that Clinton Foundation employees once helped broker a meeting between then-Secretary of State Clinton and the Crown Prince of Bahrain, who’d been (and continued to be) a generous donor to the Foundation over the years. The Bahrainis understand very well how pay-to-play works, and now here they are throwing a little business at the president-elect’s new hotel. I bet they’ll be regular customers over the next four years. Aren’t you glad to see the swamp being drained?
One more note on all this. YouGov has a new poll out today asking the public how they feel about Trump’s potential conflicts of interest, specifically whether they believe he cares more about the common good or his own financial interests. The good news: He fared better than Hillary Clinton did. The bad news: It doesn’t matter how the public feels about Hillary Clinton anymore. And these numbers aren’t encouraging for an incoming president who’s supposed to be in his honeymoon period.
He’s 20 points underwater among independents and even only musters two-thirds support among Republicans. The public does seem okay with the idea of letting his kids manage his businesses — for now, before the media’s really dug in on that — with 55 percent saying they approve of that idea at least somewhat. But when asked whether it’s likely that he’ll use his position as president to enrich himself, 54 percent say it’s at least somewhat likely. Another 52 percent said it was very or somewhat likely that there’ll be a “major corruption scandal” in his administration over the next four years. The public is skeptical already, and they’re only going to get more skeptical as stories like this proliferate and headaches about whether Trump is essentially negotiating with himself over a lease that involves public money appear. There’s no amount of money he could make from all this that will justify the damage it’ll do to his credibility as a reformer. If he’s serious about draining the swamp, he should liquidate and start clean.