Supreme Court launches House Democrats’ quest for Trump’s DC hotel records

Washington— The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a legal battle over whether House Democrats could sue for information from a federal agency about its lease for the Old Post Office building in Washington, D.C. , which was awarded to a company owned by former President Donald Trump.

The unsigned court order dismissing the case and overturning a lower court ruling in favor of the Democrats came weeks after it agreed to consider the dispute, known as Carnahan v. Maloney. After the Supreme Court said it would hear the showdown between the Biden administration, which took over the case after Trump left, and Democratic lawmakers, House members voluntarily dismissed their action.

The court battle stems from a 2013 agreement between the General Services Administration, known as the GSA, and the Trump Old Post Office LLC, owned by the former president and three of his children, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr. .and Eric Trump. Trump’s firm renovated the building, which is a few blocks from the White House, and converted it into a luxury hotel, the Trump International Hotel. Trump’s company finally sold the hotel last year, and it was reopened as the Waldorf Astoria.

After Trump’s 2016 presidential victory, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, and 10 other panel members sent a letter to the GSA requesting unredacted lease documents and reports of expenses related to the old post office. Lawmakers invoked a federal law known as Section 2954, which orders executive agencies to turn over certain information to congressional oversight committees.

The law states that a request can be made by seven members of the House Oversight Committee and is considered an oversight tool for members of the minority party.

The Trump International Hotel at the Old Post Office in Washington, DC on October 30, 2016. / Credit: AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

The Trump International Hotel at the Old Post Office in Washington, DC on October 30, 2016. / Credit: AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

The GSA turned over the unredacted documents in early January 2017, but later that month Cummings and three other House members requested more information from the agency, including monthly reports from the security company. Trump and copies of all correspondence with representatives of Trump’s company or his presidential transition. crew.

The GSA declined to comply with the request, but said it would consider it if seven members of the oversight committee sought the information. Cummings and Democrats later followed suit, though the agency did not respond to his renewed request. He did, however, hand over information, including almost all of the records sought by committee Democrats, after announcing he would interpret the requests, known as Section 2954 requests, as made under the freedom of information.

Still, Democratic lawmakers on the House Oversight Committee sued the GSA in federal district court, seeking a declaration that the agency violated the law and an order requiring the GSA to turn over the documents in question. (Cummings died in 2019, and five Democrats who joined the lawsuit are no longer in the House.)

The district court dismissed the case, finding that lawmakers lacked legal standing to prosecute. But a divided panel of federal appeals court judges in Washington backtracked, reigniting the fight after concluding the Democrats had standing to bring the case. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit then declined to reconsider the case.

The Biden administration has appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the lower court’s finding that members of Congress can sue a federal agency for failing to disclose information requested under Section 2954 conflicts with Supreme Court precedents and “contradicts historical practice that extends to the early Republic.”

“The decision also resolves exceptionally important questions of constitutional law and threatens to cause serious harm to all three branches of the federal government,” Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the court in a filing (the court overturned that decision with its order for the DC circuit to dismiss the case).

The Justice Department has warned that the harm allegedly suffered by members of Congress — the denial of information they seek — does not constitute recognizable harm under Article III of the Constitution.

“And our nation’s history makes it clear that an informational dispute between members of Congress and the executive branch is not the kind traditionally considered resolvable through the judicial process,” Prelogar wrote.

But lawyers for the Democrats urged the court to dismiss the case, writing that it “involves no division of authority requiring resolution by this Court, but only the application of well-established principles of informational status to a law singular”.

“Furthermore, it presents no recurring constitutional problem warranting the Court’s attention. Rather, it is a virtually unprecedented denial of a request under Section 2954,” they wrote. in court documents.

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