WASHINGTON -- The Trump International Hotel in the nation's capital. (Photo by Helen Parshall)
WASHINGTON (Nov. 02, 2017)—Maryland Reps. Elijah Cummings, Jamie Raskin and other House Democrats said on Thursday they have filed a lawsuit to force the federal government to turn over information about the operations of President Donald Trump's downtown hotel.
The frustrated lawmakers said they had been stonewalled by the federal government in their efforts to learn more about the highly-visible Trump International Hotel, located in a leased federal building known as the Old Post Office, just blocks from the White House.
"This hotel is not just a building with Donald Trump's name on it," Cummings said at a Capitol Hill news conference. "It is a glaring symbol of the Trump administration's lack of accountability and a daily reminder of a refusal for Republicans in Congress to do their job."
"The Trump administration has refused all of our requests for documents about the Trump hotel for the better part of this year," Cummings said. "He has refused to provide basic documents about the hotel's ongoing operations, foreign payments to the hotel, or the reversal of GSA's legal position that President Trump could not be a party to the lease as an elected official."
Cummings is the ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The panel's Democrats have sent six letters since November 2016 to the General Services Administration about the operations of Trump's hotel and what they see as a potential breach of the lease agreement.
Cummings, of Baltimore, Raskin, of Kensington, Maryland, and other committee Democrats have requested that the GSA provide the hotel's monthly income statements, records of any foreign payments and other related documents.
The GSA does not comment on lawsuits, an agency spokesman told The Washington Post.
In a January letter, Cummings said that GSA needs needed to address Trump's "apparent breach of the Old Post Office lease agreement his company entered into with the U.S. government."
"Article 37.19 of the lease agreement provides: No member or elected official of the Government of the United States or the Government of the District of Columbia, shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefore…," Cummings wrote.
In July, GSA Associate Administrator P. Brennan Hart III sent Cummings and other Democrats a White House legal opinion that individual members of Congress had no authority to conduct oversight of the executive branch unless under the authority of a committee, subcommittee or a chairman of one of those panels.
The Republicans control the House and thus the committees and did not sign on to the Democrats' letters to the GSA about the Trump hotel.
The GSA has failed to comply with the "seven members rule" that states that if seven members of the House oversight panel request documents from a federal agency, then the agency must comply and present the requested documents, the Democrats argued.
"It does not matter whether the members are Democrats or Republicans, it is mandatory for the federal agency to comply," Cummings said.
Cummings charged said that Republican committee members have refused to join the Democratic members in their efforts to hold the Trump administration accountable.
"In my opinion, House Republicans are aiding and abetting President Trump's ongoing abuses," Cummings said. "Republicans are essentially walling off President Trump from credible congressional oversight, which is our job we are sworn to do."
"That is a statutory right for us and statutory duty or obligation that they are in breach of," Raskin said at the same press conference. "That is why we are going to court. To simply enforce our rights there."
A spokesman for the chairman of the oversight panel, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, could not be reached immediately for comment.
Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-California, said "the administration (is)…clearly trying avoid its statutory responsibility."
"It seems as, if there was nothing to hide, then the administration would be working with us," the congressman said.
The government has 60 days to file a response to the lawsuit.