Foreign governments rented condos in Trump World Tower without approval from Congress: report

At least seven foreign governments reportedly rented space in Trump World Tower in New York in 2017 without congressional approval.

The rentals took place in the months following President TrumpDonald John TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill MORE’s inauguration, according to Reuters, which cited documents and people familiar with the leases. Staffers on Capitol Hill told the news service that the lease requests were never submitted to Congress.

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The leases, involving the governments of Iraq, Kuwait, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Thailand and the European Union, were approved by the State Department, according to Reuters. 

A Trump Organization spokesperson called the Reuters report inaccurate, and that because each unit is controlled by individual owners and a condominium board Trump does not see any profits when they are sold or leased.
 
"Trump World Tower is not owned or controlled by Trump, but is instead owned by individual, third-party unit owners and controlled by a condominium board made up of those owners," the spokesperson said. 
 
"As a result, when units are sold or leased, Trump does not receive a penny because it is not the seller or lessor of those units. Instead, those sums go entirely to the unit owner who is selling or leasing. Without the statement that Trump World Tower 'is controlled' by Trump, there is no connection between the sale or lease of units and any amounts paid to Trump and, therefore, no story at all."
 
The Organization told The Hill it had communicated the distinction to Reuters before publication and would request a retraction. 
 
While the 90-story skyscraper has rented to diplomats and foreign officials for years, some legal experts said failing to obtain congressional approval now that Trump is president raises issues under the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which bans U.S. officials from accepting unapproved gifts or payments from foreign governments.

“Letting this go without Congress knowing about it condones the creation of a second, opaque track of foreign policy,” Harold Hongju Koh, a professor at Yale Law School and former legal adviser at the State Department, told Reuters. “What it might lead to is a group of countries enriching the people in power on the mistaken belief that it’s going to improve their access.”

“This new information raises serious questions about the President and his businesses’ potential receipt of payments from foreign governments,” House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsMaryland postpones primary over coronavirus fears Maryland governor: 'Simply not enough supplies' on hand to tackle coronavirus Meadows joins White House facing reelection challenges MORE (D-Md.) said in a statement to the news service. “The American public deserves full transparency.”

A spokesman for the State Department said the law requires it to review the leases for national security purposes.

"The Foreign Missions Act requires the Office of Foreign Missions to review each lease and purchase request by a foreign mission. The review has as its primary purposes ensuring that the lease or purchase does not adversely affect U.S. national security and that the US obtains reciprocal benefits from requesting bilateral missions," a State Department spokesperson told The Hill. "The Office of Foreign Missions does not otherwise review the suitability of the proposed locations or in any way encourage the foreign missions to choose one location over another."
 
Citing ongoing litigation, the State Department referred The Hill to the Justice Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
 
Attorneys for Trump have defended such transactions by arguing the Emoluments Clause only applies to foreign gifts and payments directly connected to his role as president.

On Tuesday, a federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit from more than 200 Democratic senators and members of Congress alleging Trump violated the clause. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled the Trump team’s interpretation of the clause disregarded the “ordinary meaning” of emoluments.