Donald Trump set to violate government contract on day one of presidency over Post Office deal, experts say

While some conflicts of interest are debatable, legal experts say this one is as clear as they come

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The Independent US

Donald Trump will violate the terms of a key contract with the US government from the moment he is inaugurated, according to legal scholars, in a clear conflict of interest between two of the hottest properties in Washington DC.

One of those properties is the Trump International Hotel, located in the city’s Old Post Office pavilion, which the President-elect obtained on a 60-year lease in 2013. The other is the White House.

According to two experts, the terms of Mr Trump’s lease on the Old Post Office could not be clearer - he cannot occupy both buildings at the same time.

That’s because he will, as President, be responsible for appointing the head of the General Services Administration (GSA), the body which oversees the business of the federal government.

The GSA is also the body which Congress ordered to redevelop the Old Post Office in 2008 - it negotiated the lease for what is now the Trump International Hotel, and it will continue to negotiate any change to its conditions.

It has previously been speculated that Mr Trump will breach the very terms of the Constitution when he takes power on 20 January 2017. His extensive holdings overseas and his domestic business empire could defy what’s known as the Emoluments Clause, part of the Constitution which is designed to prevent public officials receiving gifts from foreign influencers.

The point is open to interpretation and would require analysis of how each of his business entities receives money, where applicable, in other countries.

But the issue with the Old Post Office is so clear-cut, such an “unprecedented and intolerable conflict of interest”, argue the two scholars, that it leaves the GSA no choice but to immediately withdraw the President-elect’s lease for the Trump International Hotel.

Steven Schooner and Dan Gordon, two George Washington University law professors and procurement policy administrators in the Clinton and Obama administrations respectively, wrote in an op-ed for Government Executive magazine that the language of the Old Post Office lease contract “could not be any more specific or clear”.

“No... elected official of the Government of the United States... shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom,” it reads.

The suggestion Mr Trump could fix the issue by simply handing over his business interests to his adult children, the pair argue, would “confront what any reasonable person would view as the appearance of a conflict of interest”. The fact he has made his children key members of his transition team only makes this point more evident, they suggest.

And Mr Trump’s most recent insistence that “the law's totally on my side, the president can't have a conflict of interest” is also, simply, “wrong”.

“While the President and Vice President are exempt from some of the ethics statutes, including some of the prohibitions related to conflicts of interest, many of the statutes that prevent conflicts of interest and corruption do constrain the president,” they argue. “Based on the agreement’s express terms, we believe that Trump has breached the contract.”

Schooner and Gordon call on the GSA to immediately break off the contract, suggesting that the worst-case scenario for the public purse would be having to pay “monetary damages” which would be “nominal at best”.

“Regardless, it would be a price worth paying to preserve the integrity of our government and its contracting system. The faster GSA ends its business relationship with the Trump Organization, the better,” they conclude.