WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats are gathering documents on President Donald Trump’s businesses after a federal court victory, and Rep. Dina Titus said an investigative hearing into profits from his hotel and a lease of the property with the federal government could be held this summer.
“Congress has an important role to play here and we cannot rely on the courts to do our job for us,” Titus told the Review-Journal. “No one is above the law.”
The Trump International Hotel is located in the Old Post Office Building, a property owned by the federal government. The hotel is owned by the Trump Organization, a business the president still has ties to, although he turned over the reins to his sons.
A federal judge last week rejected a Justice Department motion to halt a lawsuit brought by House Democrats to retrieve records to determine if the president is in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. (Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution prohibits anyone in public office, absent congressional consent, from profiting or accepting a present from any king, prince or leader of a foreign state. And Article 2, Section 1 says the president shall not receive “…any other emolument from the United States, or any of them.”)
The Justice Department, representing Trump, said the arrangement did not violate the Constitution.
“This case should have been dismissed,” said Kelly Laco, a Justice Department spokesperson. He said the department would appeal the court’s decision in the case.
“It presents important questions that warrant immediate appellate review and is another impractical attempt to disrupt and distract the president from his official duties,” Laco said.
Public interest paramount
House Democrats disagreed.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said “once again the courts have resoundingly reaffirmed our efforts to hold the president accountable for corruption, and ensure that the president acts in the public interest, not his own interest.”
Titus is leading an investigation into lease arrangement between the president’s business and the General Services Administration, and whether it violates the constitution. She applauded the court’s ruling.
“I’m encouraged by the recent court rulings that make it clear more oversight is needed to protect our democracy from Trump’s casual corruption,” said Titus, D-Nev., chairwoman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on public buildings.
She said the constitutional clause was designed to keep the president from accepting bribes.
“Yet, at his hotel in Washington, President Trump is accepting payments from giant corporations looking for sweetheart deals and from foreign interests currying favor,” Titus said. “That must end.”
“The investigation I am leading will hold President Trump accountable for his gross violation of the public trust,” she said.
The federal judge refused to delay a lawsuit filed by 200 congressional Democrats who accused the president of violating the emoluments clause.
Attorneys general in the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia also have similar lawsuits pending before federal courts.
Titus said her investigation has centered on the General Services Administration lease to the Trump Organization, and concerns by the agency’s inspector general about the business transaction.
The General Services Administration and the Trump Organization have been slow to deliver documents sought by the committee.
“It’s like pulling teeth getting that information,” Titus told the Review-Journal.
“Hopefully will get that information and move ahead with a hearing,” she said. “We would like to get the inspector general to come in and tell us why he thought the emoluments clause was a problem.”
Titus said she would like to call a hearing before the congressional August recess.
Even House Republicans have warned the General Services Administration and other federal agencies against withholding information.
FBI move canceled
In addition to the investigation into the lease, Congress also is conducting a probe into a sudden decision by the FBI to cancel a move of its headquarters, located across the street from the Trump International Hotel, to area suburbs.
Trump critics note that a move of the FBI building would have freed up commercial space across the street that could be competitive with the Trump hotel.
Congressional Democrats said they plan to investigate claims Trump was present at a meeting weeks before the FBI changed plans to move from the building across the street.
The decision to relocate the law enforcement agency was abandoned after Trump became president.
A liberal-leaning watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said plans to relocate the FBI to another location, after 12 years and $20 million in research and planning, were approved by the General Services Administration.
The decision to spike the move occurred just weeks after a meeting was held with White House officials and the president, the inspector general determined in a report last year.
Titus said her subcommittee would also look into that issue, and whether the president used his influence to sway the decision by the federal agency not to relocate the FBI.