By Julia Harte
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top Democrat on the U.S. Senate committee overseeing pensions on Monday asked the U.S. Office of Government Ethics to assess whether President Donald Trump is violating the Constitution and federal bans on conflicts of interest.
Reuters reported on April 26 that public pension funds in at least seven U.S. states periodically send millions of dollars to an investment fund that owns the upscale Trump SoHo Hotel and Condominium in New York City and pays a Trump company to run it, according to a Reuters review of public records.
“Trump may be profiting from the retirement plans of millions of our nation’s public servants,” Senator Patty Murray of Washington state wrote in a letter to Walter Shaub, the director of the Office of Government Ethics, citing the Reuters report.
The Office of Government Ethics is the U.S. agency that oversees conduct within the executive branch and supervises ethics officials to ensure they are preventing conflicts of interest and other violations.
“This looks like exactly the type of monetary flow prohibited by the Constitution,” said the senator.
Murray, who is on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, asked Shaub to assess what steps Trump can take to ensure he is in compliance with Article II of the U.S. Constitution, which bars the president from receiving additional payments beyond his salary from state governments.
The fees that public pension funds pay the CIM Fund III investment fund that owns the Trump SoHo may fall into that category, several constitutional lawyers have told Reuters.
The White House, the Trump Organization, and the Office of Government Ethics did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
At a January news conference at which Trump said he would turn over management of his companies to a trust controlled by his two elder sons, his lawyer, Sheri Dillon, said divesting from his businesses would "exacerbate" potential conflicts of interest because Trump would still be entitled to royalties from the use of his brand.
Some of the pension funds have said Trump or the investment fund that owns the hotel should answer concerns about the chain because they do not have control over the assets in the investment fund’s portfolio. Others declined to comment on the payment chain between them and Trump.
Other Democratic U.S. senators have criticized the president for not divesting his hotel management company and the hundreds of other businesses that make up the Trump Organization.
Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland said Trump was setting “an extremely dangerous precedent” by maintaining ownership.
(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)