Titus, DeFazio threaten to subpoena documents in Trump hotel investigation

Rep. Dina Titus threatened on Wednesday to subpoena documents from the General Services Administration after sparring with an agency official over its decision to sidestep the issue of whether President Donald Trump violated the Constitution’s Emoluments Clauses with the operation of the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C.

“We’ll see if we can get an audit,” Titus said. “If they don’t get us those reports, then we’ll move to subpoena them.”

Her comments came after a contentious hearing held by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee, which Titus chairs — and that oversees GSA, the administrator of federally owned real estate.

Titus and the committee chairman, Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, are seeking documents from GSA about the financial operations of the hotel, including an annual audit conducted under the terms of the lease agreement. 

“They’re stonewalling us,” Titus said, who helped spearhead the investigation when she took over the chairmanship of the subcommittee at the beginning of the year.

At issue are concerns about foreign governments and others seeking favor from the Trump administration by staying at the D.C. hotel. For example, a Saudi lobbyist spent almost $300,000 at the hotel in December 2016. T-Mobile executives spent almost $200,000 at the hotel since seeking federal permission to merge with Sprint.

Under the Constitution, the president is prohibited from making money off of foreign countries. In a separate clause, the president is also prohibited from accepting any federal or state taxpayer dollars or emoluments beyond his presidential salary. 

But Republicans on the panel said the hearing was an attempt to smear the president, who is now the subject of an impeachment inquiry being conducted by House Democrats.

“Today’s hearing is going to be nothing more than a political spectacle and a chance for the president’s opponents to try to undermine him and continue to do their search for anything to further their case on impeachment,” said full Transportation Committee ranking member Rep. Sam Graves, a Republican from Missouri.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was moved to launch an impeachment inquiry after allegations emerged that Trump pressured the president of Ukraine in a phone call in July to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his potential opponent in the 2020 presidential election. Trump acknowledged that he talked about Biden in the July call, but maintains he did not act improperly. 

Pelosi also said earlier Tuesday that there are other actions Trump has taken that could lead to his impeachment, and the committee’s work could ultimately be used to help make a case against the president. 

Titus criticized the agency for not implementing recommendations in a January report from the GSA’s Office of Inspector General, including conducting a legal analysis of the Emoluments Clauses with regard to the lease. 

“It seems to me that the IGs investigation reveals that you all just completely ignored the serious legal and ethical questions here,” she said.

GSA Public Buildings Commissioner Daniel Mathews said that it would be improper for the agency to conduct any such analysis because the emoluments issue is currently being litigated in the courts.

“With respect to the Emoluments Clauses, it would be inappropriate for GSA to weigh in on that issue while it is the subject of active litigations,” Mathews, a Trump appointee, said, noting that the first suit was filed in January of 2017.

“Additional suits have been filed since that time,” he continued. ”Accordingly, the meaning and application of the Emoluments Clauses have been the subject of active litigation for the entirety of this Administration. The Department of Justice has taken the position in those cases that the president’s interest in the Trump International Hotel does not violate the Constitution. 

Titus believes that the agency shirked its responsibility to uphold the Constitution.  

“When you take an oath to uphold the Constitution, you are bound by that oath,” she said. “Yet, GSA officials have turned a blind eye to these legal and ethical issues.”

Republicans on the panel argued that the hotel, which used to lose $6 million a year and now makes $3 million for the federal government, is a model for how to redevelop a federal property.

Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina and ranking member of the subcommittee, called the lease transparent and “a good model for all the underutilized property in terms of taking it from what it once was to what it currently is.”

Meadows also pointed out the most of the work on the lease was done under the previous administration. The lease was signed in 2013, and the hotel opened in 2016.

Titus said that if the hotel is making money, then the president is making money and possibly violating the Emoluments Clause. 

“Well, if it’s making money, it’s making money for the president,” Titus said.

The potential problem stems from the fact that Trump did not divest himself from his company after being elected president. Part of his plan to avoid running afoul of the law had been to put his assets in a revocable trust

But Walter Shaub, former head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, said he believes there has been an emoluments violation. 

“It certainly is,” Shaub said when asked by Titus on the matter. “The revocable trust does absolutely nothing to separate him from his assets or his income. We dealt with this revocable trusts all the time with presidential appointees coming into government and we helped them work through their conflicts of interest and consider these nonentities.”