Washington, DC, Feb. 5, 2019 — Nonpartisan ethics watchdog American Oversight today filed a lawsuit to shed light on the Trump administration’s decision to use federal funding to re-open the Old Post Office Tower during last month’s record-long government shutdown. The tower in downtown Washington, D.C. is attached to the Trump International Hotel, in which President Trump holds financial stake.
“Yet again, the president’s refusal to divest from his business empire has created the appearance of a serious conflict of interest,” said Austin Evers, Executive Director of American Oversight. “President Trump has time and again used his public office for private gain, and it looks like the president’s businesses may have received special treatment while most of the government was shuttered and trash piled up on the National Mall. The public should know if the administration’s decision to fund a federal site connected to the president’s hotel is more than a coincidence.”
The recent 35-day shutdown closed numerous federal agencies and kept hundreds of thousands of federal workers from receiving paychecks. Funding for certain functions of the General Services Administration (GSA), which manages the Old Post Office Tower on behalf of the federal government, and the National Park Service (NPS), which runs it, lapsed during the shutdown, but the administration continued to finance the tower’s operations. GSA issued various statements concerning the Federal Buildings Fund and the use of funds not impacted by the shutdown to fund operations at the Old Post Office Tower, but it remains unclear why and by whom the decision was made to re-open the tower.
American Oversight’s lawsuit comes after GSA and NPS failed to provide records in response to six Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The watchdog’s FOIA requests target documents related to the decision to staff the tower during the shutdown, including:
- Communications about the tower’s operations during the shutdown;
- Communications with the Trump Organization or its representatives; and
- Records related to the funding source for the tower’s operations during the shutdown.
Today’s suit is part of American Oversight’s investigation into the president’s conflicts of interest. The watchdog has previously sued the GSA, Justice Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Office of Management and Budget for records regarding the administration’s decision to reverse a long-time plan to relocate FBI’s headquarters outside of Washington, D.C. American Oversight has also sued the State Department to investigate how the Trump family’s business interests have influenced agency policy.
American Oversight is a non-partisan, nonprofit ethics watchdog and is the top Freedom of Information Act litigator investigating the Trump administration. American Oversight has filed more than 50 public records lawsuits since March 2017, uncovering and publishing tens of thousands of documents including senior officials’ calendars, emails, and expense records. Through its Parallel Investigations Initiative, American Oversight uses targeted FOIA requests and litigation to prevent the Trump administration from obstructing congressional oversight. Follow us at @weareoversight and learn more at http://www.americanoversight.org.