If you want to understand how fake news starts, this is a case study. You take a credulous audience that is willing to believe the worst about someone and you craft a story that fits their preconceived bias. Then you sit back and watch the fun.
There is no doubt that Donald Trump’s diverse business interests present a challenge. Unless he is willing to spend his entire presidency fighting charges of
collecting donations from foreign leaders for his foundation self dealing and conflict of interest he has to do something significant to remove himself from his business interests. The one investment that is causing the biggest stir is his ownership, via an LLC, of the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW which he had redeveloped into a hotel. Begin the fake news:
As Steven Schooner and Daniel Gordon pointed out in a detailed piece in Government Executive, an Atlantic sister publication, Trump’s lease included one important clause: “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…” In other words, Trump can have his hotel, or he can have the White House, but he cannot have both.
On Wednesday, Democratic Representatives Elijah Cummings, Peter DeFazio, Andre Carson, and Gerry Connolly sent a letter to the administrator of the GSA, Denise Roth, on the matter. They say that Roth sent the deputy commission of GSA’s Public Buildings Service to brief them. They write:
Most importantly, the Deputy Commissioner informed our staff that GSA assesses that Mr. Trump will be in breach of his lease agreement the moment he takes office on January 20, 2017, unless he fully divests himself of all financial interests in the lease for his Washington, D.C. hotel. The Deputy Commissioner made clear that Mr. Trump must divest himself not only of managerial control, but of all ownership interest as well.
They add, “The Deputy Commissioner confirmed repeatedly during the briefing that GSA reads this provision as we do.” They say that the deputy commissioner informed them that GSA had attempted to inform Trump’s team of the impending violation but had received no communication. They also request a collection of documents, including the lease.
Except that is wrong and deliberately made wrong both by the guy in Government Executive (perhaps a innocent error but unlikely unless the guy is a raging incompetent) and the Democrats (who just made stuff up.)
In fact, the GSA responded to this allegation:
“GSA does not have a position that the lease provision requires the President-elect to divest of his financial interests. We can make no definitive statement at this time about what would constitute a breach of the agreement, and to do so now would be premature. In fact, no determination regarding the Old Post Office can be completed until the full circumstances surrounding the President-elect’s business arrangements have been finalized and he has assumed office. GSA is committed to responsibly administering all of the leases to which it is a party.”
And they included the official contract clause:
The full language of section 37.19 is below:
No member or delegate to Congress, or elected official of the Government of the United States or the Government of the District of Columbia, shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom; provided, however, that this provision shall not be construed as extending to any Person who may be a shareholder or other beneficial owner of any publicly held corporation or other entity, if this Lease is for the general benefit of such corporation or other entity.
That seems to imply that so long as Trump is partner in the LLC and the hotel exists for the benefit of the LLC that there is no lease issue whatsoever.
In other words, the Democrats knowingly created fake news and the media either knowingly or reflexively spread the same.