By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. congressional Democrats filed suit on Thursday seeking the release of government documents related to Republican President Donald Trump’s ownership of a Washington hotel that critics say represents a conflict of interest.
In the lawsuit, Democrats on the House of Representatives’ Oversight and Government Reform Committee said the General Services Administration (GSA), the government’s property arm, illegally withheld documents about the Trump International Hotel.
The 14-page suit marks the latest legal skirmish over the luxury hotel a few blocks from the White House, which has become a rallying point for anti-Trump protesters. Critics say the hotel violates government rules barring elected officials from taking part in a lease of federal property.
Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said the GSA had ignored federal law by refusing to provide documents about the hotel’s operation, foreign payments to the hotel or the legal reasoning that Trump could be a party to the lease.
“We have no transparency – no ability to check for ongoing conflicts of interest or unconstitutional foreign payments,” Cummings said in a statement.
The suit filed in U.S. District Court names acting General Services Administrator Timothy Horne as defendant. Pam Dixon, a spokeswoman for the agency, said it would not comment on pending litigation.
Cummings and other critics have argued that the hotel housed in the government’s historic Old Post Office represented a conflict of interest because Trump is both landlord and tenant of the building. A GSA contracting officer said in March that the hotel was not in violation of federal conflict-of-interest rules.
Thursday’s lawsuit said the GSA rebuffed three requests from committee Democrats for information about the hotel since Trump took office in January. The requests included ones filed under a law which mandates that a federal agency turn over information requested by at least seven members of the committee.
Under the same law, the GSA had produced documents about the Trump International Hotel while Democrat Barack Obama was president, the suit said.
Trump is facing numerous lawsuits targeting his alleged failure to distance himself from his business empire while in office. The president ceded day-to-day control of his businesses to his sons, Eric and Donald Jr., in a move he said would steer clear of conflicts of interest.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Andrew Hay)