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Titus threatens congressional grilling of uncooperative GSA official

WASHINGTON — Two House Democrats, including Nevada Rep. Dina Titus, are threatening to haul the head of a federal agency before Congress to explain her refusal to comply with subpoenas seeking financial information about the lease of the Old Post Office Building to the Trump International Hotel.

Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Titus, who chair the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and its subcommittee on public buildings, respectively, have issued subpoenas for the information from the General Services Administration.

The failure of GSA Administrator Emily Murphy to comply with the subpoena and produce the financial records prompted DeFazio and Titus to issue a letter threatening a congressional hearing early next year.

The letter, dated Dec. 20, said, “Your agency has engaged in a pattern of obstruction and obstinance that is unacceptable and damaging to GSA’s ability to manage taxpayer funds in a transparent manner.”

DeFazio and Titus said without the documents, they would force Murphy to testify before their committee in order to carry out oversight required of the legislative branch.

A request for comment by the GSA was not immediately returned to the Review-Journal.

Trump lawyers and the Justice Department have fought the subpoena in federal court.

Memos request ignored for a year

DeFazio and Titus, in their letter to Murphy, said GSA has made no effort to accommodate their request for legal memos relating to the lease agreement since the lawmakers first wrote the federal agency in January 2019.

“We strongly encourage you to comply with the subpoena and stop placing President (Donald) Trump above the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the United States,” DeFazio and Titus wrote.

The lease between the GSA and the Trump Organization for the Old Post Office has been tangled in federal lawsuits claiming the arrangement violates the Constitution’s emoluments clause.

After being elected president, Trump remained associated with the Trump Organization, which manages his real estate and other businesses.

Private lawyers for the president have insisted there is no wrongdoing with the lease arrangement.

And Justice Department lawyers have defended the president in lawsuits brought before federal courts in two circuits citing jurisdictional issues.

Meanwhile, the Trump Organization in October announced it was exploring a possible sale of the hotel in Washington, citing the ongoing legal challenges.

Congress has remained dogged in its efforts to review the arrangement between the government and the president.

The House committee cited a redacted Jan. 16 report from the Office of the Inspector General of the GSA that concluded Trump failed to separate from his business interests and continues to profit from the Trump Organization’s business interests.

The inspector general also concluded that the GSA was aware of constitutional problems with the lease and the president’s business organization, but failed to act.

‘Essentially accepting bribes’

“As long as the president continues to personally profit from the Trump Hotel in Washington, he is essentially accepting bribes from giant corporations looking for sweetheart deals and from foreign interests currying favor,” Titus said earlier this year.

The inspector general’s report, found that GSA recognized that the president’s business interests in the Old Post Office lease “raised issues under the Constitution’s emoluments clause that might cause a breach of the lease.”

“However, GSA decided not to address those issues in connection with the management of the lease,” the inspector general concluded.

The emoluments clause of the Constitution restricts public officeholders from receiving gifts or titles from foreign states or monarchies to protect the U.S. government from corrupting foreign interests.

The Trump Hotel is at the center of another controversy that House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leaders have vowed to explore.

Congressional Democrats said they plan to investigate claims that Trump was present at a meeting weeks before the FBI changed plans to move from the building across the street, opening the property up for lease to a possible competitor to the Trump International Hotel.

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 GSA.

But the decision to relocate the law enforcement agency was abandoned after Trump became president.

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.

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.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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