Why Selling the Washington Trump Hotel Could Be a Strategic Move for the President

October 25, 2019, 9:17 PM UTC

The Trump family is considering selling its Washington hotel, distancing itself from a property that has been the source of much controversy over President Donald Trump’s three years in office.

“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,” Eric Trump, an executive vice president at the Trump Organization, told The Wall Street Journal. He added that political disputes may play a roll in the decision.

“People are objecting to us making so much money on the hotel, and therefore we may be willing to sell,” he said.

The news comes just a day after the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure issued a subpoena to the General Services Administration (GSA)—which leased the property to Trump—for documents related to the committee’s ongoing investigations.

The committee, led by Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), is looking into potential conflicts of interest and constitutional emoluments violations related to the Trump International Hotel’s income.

The business, located in the historic Old Post Office, opened shortly before Trump was elected president in November 2016. After the election, Trump’s sons took up management. Trump, however, is the sole beneficiary of a trust with a controlling interest in Trump Old Post Office, LLC, the property’s lease holder.

State and foreign leaders frequently stay at the hotel—which sits just blocks away from the White House—leading some to question whether the president is in violation of the constitutional emoluments clause, which forbids a sitting president from receiving certain types of gifts from foreign governments.

A GSA watchdog found in January 2019 that the agency failed to consider this clause when it allowed Trump to continue leasing the property as president.

Trump argues that he is not in violation of any laws; his family sends to the Treasury what it says are the total profits of foreign government stays at the hotel each year, the New York Times reports.

The House investigations and the sale of the hotel are unlikely to have an impact on the overall impeachment inquiry.

“When Nancy Pelosi announced the start of the impeachment inquiry, she indicated that lawmakers would focus the investigation on the president’s interactions with Ukraine,” lawyer and legal commentator James Goodnow told Fortune. “While some Democratic lawmakers have floated the idea of drafting articles of impeachment based on violations of the emoluments clause, it’s unlikely that such a charge would gain traction.”

Aside from congressional oversight, the Trump Organization faces three lawsuits in connection to the Washington hotel and potential emoluments violations.

It’s in these lawsuits that Trump might benefit from selling the hotel. While the sale would not detract from claims of past crimes, Goodnow said the sale would overall be a “net gain” for the president’s position in these lawsuits.

“The sale would cut off claims about current or ongoing violations—which are important considerations courts will consider should the cases get to the remedies phase of the litigation,” he said.

Each lawsuit relates to the emoluments clause, but is brought by a different party. A suit brought forward by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia was dismissed by a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court in July, but will be reconsidered by the full court in December.

A case brought by a Washington-area restaurant association, an event booker, and the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington was dismissed in 2017 and then reinstated in appeal. Finally, a case brought by more than 200 Democratic lawmakers was approved in 2018.

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