Trump Organization explores selling lease rights for Washington hotel over ethics concerns

Key Points
  • The Trump Organization is exploring selling leasing rights for its Washington hotel, in part because of ethics concerns related to President Trump profiting from the business.
  • The company hopes to get more than $500 million for the lease rights to the Trump International Hotel, which is located in the Old Post Office building five blocks from the White House.
  • The attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia are suing Trump, claiming he has violated the Constitution's emoluments clause by profiting from patronage of foreign countries at the hotel.
Trump Organization reportedly exploring sale of Washington hotel

The Trump Organization said Friday that it is exploring selling its lease rights for its Washington hotel, in part due to ethics concerns related to President Donald Trump profiting from business there, which includes visits by officials of foreign governments.

The announcement came a day after a House committee issued a subpoena to the General Services Administration for documents relating to its lease of the Old Post Office Building for the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

The Trump Organization is aiming to obtain more than $500 million for the lease rights to hotel, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported news of the potential sale.

The 121-year-old building is located five blocks from the White House, and is owned by the federal government. The Trump Organization has a 60-year lease for the site issued by the GSA.

The hotel was opened shortly before Trump's election as president in 2016.

"Since we opened our doors, we have received tremendous interest in this hotel and as real-estate developers, we are always willing to explore our options," Trump's son Eric said in a statement to CNBC.

"People are objecting to us making so much money on the hotel, and therefore we may be willing to sell," said Eric Trump, who runs the Trump Organization with his older brother Donald Trump Jr.

The Trump Organization has retained the commerical real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle for the potential sale of the lease.

News of the potential sale comes six days after the president abruptly reversed his plan to host next June's Group of 7 summit at his Miami golf resort. That reversal came after days of criticism from Democrats that Trump would be improperly profiting from the G-7 gathering of leaders of economically elite nations if it were held at the Trump National Doral.

Trump's Washington hotel is a well-known gathering place for associates and supporters of the president, as well as lobbyists and officials from foreign governments.

President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has coffee with Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnas at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, September 20, 2019.
Aram Roston | Reuters

The attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia have sued Trump claiming that he violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution by continuing to hold an interest in the hotel and by profiting from patronage of foreign countries.

That clause bars presidents from accepting foreign gifts without congressional permission.

That suit was tossed out by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in July, overruling a district court judge who had allowed the case to head toward trial.

But the full appeals court has agreed to considering whether the case can be resurrected. Oral arguments in that appeal are scheduled for Dec. 12.

President Trump reverses decision to hold 2020 G-7 Summit at Doral resort

The internal watchdog of the General Services Administration last January said the agency had improperly "ignored" the emoluments clause when it allowed the Trump Organization to manage the hotel after Trump was elected president.

The GSA's inspector general, in a report, said Trump's interest in the hotel raised a possible conflict with the emoluments clause that "might cause a breach of lease."

On Thursday, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure issued a subpoena to GSA for "key documents" related to the hotel's lease.

"GSA failed to comply with multiple requests from [Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon]and the Chair of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Dina Titus (D-NV), who are conducting Congressional oversight of potential conflicts of interest and constitutional emoluments violations on the part of the President, who has refused to divest from his financial interests in the hotel," the committee said.

Additional reporting by CNBC's Tucker Higgins