The Supreme Court may soon decide whether to take up a long-running dispute between former President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats over the former Trump International Hotel in the nation’s capital.
The justices are scheduled to discuss the case at their closed-door conference on March 17. If four of the nine justices vote to hear the case, oral argument will be scheduled.
If the case is heard and Democrats prevail, going forward the minority party in Congress would gain a great deal more power to investigate a president’s administration of the opposite party even if the minority party lacks the committee votes required to issue a subpoena.
The Democrats’ attorney, David Vladeck, told The Epoch Times “it is an important case,” but refused further comment. Vladeck, a Georgetown University law professor, is a former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission.
University of Cincinnati College of Law professor Bradford Mank told USA Today that if the Democratic challengers win, “There would be more members of the opposite party who would file suits.”
“There would be much more danger that ideologues on both sides would … try to use the statute to embarrass a sitting president,” Mank said.
The case goes back to 2017, when Trump had just become president and Republicans controlled both houses of Congress. At that time several Democrats on the House Oversight Committee demanded that the Trump administration produce records concerning how Trump acquired the rights to develop the historic Old Post Office building, a few blocks away from the White House, as a luxury hotel. The Trump administration refused. Trump critics have alleged that the deal smacked of corruption and said that various organizations, including foreign governments, booked the hotel to curry favor with the administration.
But The Trump Organization said the leasing process was conducted fairly. More than 20 hotel companies bid on the project and Trump’s company said it “was awarded the job based on the strength of Trump development capabilities, financial wherewithal, vision for the property, and dedication to the preservation of the historic structure.”
Trump left the presidency in January 2021 and The Trump Organization sold the lease to the property in May 2022 to CGI Merchant Group for an undisclosed sum.
“The transaction marks the highest price per key ever achieved in Washington D.C., the highest price per key in U.S. history for a leasehold interest, and the largest sale of a historic hotel in over 15 years,” The Trump Organization said.
Media reports based on unnamed sources indicated at the time that the lease was sold for $375 million and may have netted the Trump family business up to $100 million in profits.
The hotel is now known as the Waldorf Astoria Washington D.C. and is part of Hilton Worldwide.
The case is Carnahan v. Maloney, court file 22-425. Robin Carnahan is the Administrator of the General Services Administration, an independent agency of the U.S. government that manages federal property and provides contracting options for government agencies. Former Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, chaired the U.S. House Oversight Committee until she left office on Jan. 3.
The legal issue is whether individual members of Congress have standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution to sue an executive agency to compel it to disclose information that the members have requested under 5 U.S.C. § 2954. That law provides that a request for information must be acted upon if just seven members of the House Oversight Committee or five members of its counterpart in the Senate demand it. Article III of the Constitution is the article that created the federal judiciary.
A federal district judge threw out the Democrats’ lawsuit in 2018, finding they lacked standing to bring the case. The court found the lawmakers were not injured by being denied the documents and that there was “no historical precedent for members of Congress to even attempt to enforce unmet … demands through the federal courts.”
But a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned that ruling on a 2–1 vote in 2020, finding that the lawmakers had the right to sue. The panel sent the case back to the lower court for reconsideration, stating, “The separation of powers, it must be remembered, is not a one-way street that runs to the aggrandizement of the executive branch.”
In the case at hand, the Biden administration sided with the former Trump administration in defense of presidential authority.
In the petition (pdf) filed with the Supreme Court in November 2022, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar approvingly quoted the dissenting circuit court judge, Neomi Rao, a Trump appointee, who wrote that members of the minority party could use the law to harass presidents.
Rao said the panel decision meant that the “more fractious members” of Congress would be at liberty to “enlist the courts in their political conflicts and strategically threaten executive agencies with protracted litigation.”
Vladeck filed a brief (pdf) Feb. 6 urging the Supreme Court not to grant the petition and leave the circuit court ruling in place.
The Biden administration’s claim that “this case merits review is wrong and wrong again.”
The case “presents no recurring constitutional issue warranting this Court’s attention. To the contrary, it involves a once-in-a-decade, virtually unprecedented rejection of a Section 2954 request,” the brief said.
The Epoch Times asked the U.S. Department of Justice, the GSA, and The Trump Organization to comment but had not received a reply from any of them as of press time.
This article by Matthew Vadum appeared March 16, 2023, in The Epoch Times.