The president’s critics see a ‘conflict of interest’ with the Trump Organization requesting a rent break for $270,000-a-month DC hotel

The president’s critics see a ‘conflict of interest’ with the Trump Organization requesting a rent break for  $270,000-a-month DC hotel
Eric Trump screengrab

When Donald Trump promised to “drain the swamp” during the 2016 presidential election, his supporters insisted that he was waging an all-out war on crony capitalism and conflicts of interest. But the Trump Administration, the president’s critics argue, has been giving preferential treatment to the Trump Organization — and now, critics see another possible conflict of interest: the Trump Organization is asking for a break on monthly the rent that it pays to the federal government for the Washington, D.C. site where the Trump International Hotel is located.

That hotel, like many others, has been struggling during the coronavirus pandemic. And the Trump Organization’s Eric Trump (one of the president’s sons) asked the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) for a break in rent, the New York Times is reporting.

In a statement on April 21, Eric Trump insisted that the Trump Organization didn’t want preferential treatment. “Just treat us the same. Whatever that may be is fine,” he said.

Law & Crime reporter Colin Kalmbacher explains, “If the federal government management and support-focused agency accedes to the demand, then evergreen concerns about the hotel’s conflict of interest for the 45th president will be featured in sharp relief. If the GSA denies the request while at the same time cutting other GSA lessees slack on rent due, then basic principles of equity, broadly understood, could lead to charges that the agency was being a little too cautious over the optics —  and that would likely invite a few tweets worth of scorn from the famously mercurial president.”

Kalmbacher adds, however, that the GSA “hasn’t signaled one way or another how they intend to respond to Eric Trump’s request for an abatement of the hotel’s nearly $270,000 monthly rent. The Trump Organization is reportedly current on their rent, unlike many millions of Americans hoping for such relief from their elected representatives and leaders.”

One critic of President Trump who has been speaking out about Eric Trump’s request to the GSA is Walter Shaub, former head of the U.S. Department of Ethics. Shaub tweeted, “Last fall, GSA admitted to lawmakers that it wasn’t bothering to audit submissions from Trump’s hotel that claimed it wasn’t earning enough to trigger an increase in payments to GSA above the minimum. Now, the hotel wants a break on rent from GSA. Will GSA audit this request?”

Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), tweeted, “The President’s company is asking for a break on its lease payments for its DC hotel because of the pandemic. The request is going to the landlord, which is the Trump Administration. It’s hard to imagine a clearer case of a conflict of interest.”

Robert Maguire, CREW’s research director, tweeted, “Not only did GSA’s lease have something to say about Trump leasing GSA’s property, the founders of this nation had something to say about it too. But what good is a little old thing like a Constitution, and why enforce contracts when it’s easier to go with the corrupting flow?”

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