by Erwin Chemerinsky, ACS Board Member and Dean and Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law
The legal and constitutional problems posed by Donald Trump’s election are not hypothetical and began the moment he was inaugurated as president. Most immediately, Trump is the owner of Trump International Hotel, D.C. on the site of the Old Post Office. His ownership violates both the terms of his lease and the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. Unfortunately, to this point, he either does not understand or does not care about the serious conflicts of interest posed by his business interests.
The issues with regard to the D.C. hotel are obviously just the beginning of such problems arising, but they also are typical of the serious legal troubles that Trump faces. In 2012, Trump succeeded in getting the bid to redevelop the Old Post Office and signed a 60-year lease with the General Service Administration. Trump beat out proposals from hotel chains including Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott.
Unlike many of his holdings which are owned by corporations, Trump himself is the majority owner in this hotel. The Washington Post reports that according to the financial disclosure form he filed with the Federal Election Commission, Trump owns 76.725 percent of the D.C. hotel project. Three of his children, Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric, each have 7.425 percent of the project.
Trump’s ownership is in clear violation of the lease which contains a provision that says no U.S. official “shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.” There is a simple reason for this: it prevents a conflict of interest that would exist if government officials are in a lease agreement with the government. As president, Trump oversees the General Services Administration and Trump, as owner of the building, is leasing property from the GSA.