Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform are filing a lawsuit in federal court against the Trump administration on Thursday in an attempt to unearth details about the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C.
The suit is signed by 17 members of the committee and is addressed to Timothy O. Horne, the acting administrator of the General Services Administration, the agency responsible for leasing the Old Post Office Building, in which the hotel is located.
“This hotel is not just a building with Donald Trump’s name on it,” ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said in a statement. “It is a glaring symbol of the Trump administration’s lack of accountability and a daily reminder of the refusal by Republicans in Congress to do their job. This may be standard operating procedure in foreign countries—but not here. Not in America.”
A Democratic aide for the committee said the goal of the suit was threefold: to force the GSA to provide the committee with documents about the hotel’s ongoing operations; to calculate the payments foreign entities had made to the hotel; and to get a detailed explanation as to why the GSA reversed its position that President Trump himself could not be a party to the lease.
It is, perhaps, the sharpest escalation in a months-long attempt to get financial records over one of Washington’s most controversial properties.
Dating back to before the Trump inauguration, Democrats claim they have been stonewalled in their attempts to get information about the hotel’s operations. Last December, 11 members of the committee sent a letter to GSA requesting documents under the Seven Member Rule, federal statute (5 U.S.C. § 2954). The statute states that an executive agency “shall submit any information requested” when asked by “the Committee on Government Operations of the House of Representatives, or of any seven members thereof.”
According to the House Democrats’ lawsuit, the GSA initially complied, granting them amendments to the lease, the 2017 budget estimate, and monthly income statements. But after President Trump’s inauguration, a subsequent request for additional information was declined by the GSA’s acting associate administrator.
Democrats on the committee contend that they were specifically told that any further requests pursuant to the Seven Member Rule would be reviewed. They sent two subsequent requests, both of which they claim received no response. After a third request was sent on July 6, 2017—this time for a response to their previous letters—Democrats were denied again. They allege GSA insisted that the administration would respond to “congressional requests for information only when those requests come from a committee, subcommittee, or chairman authorized to conduct oversight.”
Absent signoff from Republicans on the committee, Democrats could not meet that demand. They chose to sue instead.
“We regret that we have to go to court to obtain these basic documents, which are clearly within our committee’s jurisdiction,” Cummings said. “We would not be here today if Chairman [Trey] Gowdy and his Republican colleagues would do their jobs.”
Now that committee members have filed their suit, the Trump administration has 60 days to issue a response. Committee Democrats believe that they are on good standing to obtain the requested documents, specifically citing Republican efforts in 1994 to obtain documents from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation as well as the successful invoking of the Seven Member Statute during the last year of the Obama administration. In that case, the GSA did comply with a December 2016 request for unredacted copies of documents” pertaining to “conflict-of-interest issues” created by Trump’s ownership interest in the lease of the hotel.
“This lawsuit is not just about a hotel in Washington D.C.,” Cummings said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “This is about the president defying a federal statute and denying our ability as members of Congress to fulfill our constitutional duty to act as a check on the Executive Branch.”