Donald Trump is about to become both landlord and tenant of the luxury hotel he leases from the federal government.
Legal experts agree it’s a clear and immediate conflict of interest, but there’s probably no way to force him out of it.
Two top lawyers made waves this week with the suggestion that Trump will have to unload the hotel because a line in his contract with the General Services Administration says the lease can’t benefit a government official. But other contracting experts say that argument isn’t a slam dunk, and if the GSA declines to fight Trump over it, no one else has the ability to intervene.
“This is a horrible outcome that can only be resolved by the president doing the right thing,” said David Drabkin, a former GSA senior procurement executive. “And I don’t know how you force him to do the right thing if he doesn’t choose to do it.”
Trump is facing bipartisan calls to sell his businesses to address the fear that he might use the presidency to enrich himself. Democrats are already plotting to harangue the incoming administration over the billionaire’s sprawling conflicts of interest.
But the case of the Trump International Hotel Washington, towering over Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol, symbolizes how Trump’s critics are short on legal options.
Trump has defied the calls to divest his holdings, going so far as to claim “the president can’t have a conflict of interest.” He tweeted this week that his lawyers are drawing up a plan to remove himself from his “business operations.” But ethics experts — and even the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics — say that won’t fix the problem unless Trump stops owning the properties too.