The Defense Department might pay Trump as its landlord. Is that legal?

The United States military is looking to rent space in New York's 58-story Trump Tower, a building of which the president is both the owner and a long-time resident, a Pentagon spokesperson said Wednesday. 

Mark Lennihan/AP
Trump Tower seen from a New York street. The US military is looking to rent space at Trump Tower for use when President Trump returns to his longtime home in New York City.

The Department of Defense may soon be Trump Tower's newest lessee. 

The United States military is looking to rent space in New York's 58-story Trump Tower, a building of which the president is both the owner and a long-time resident, a Pentagon spokesperson said Wednesday, "in order to meet official mission requirements." 

"The Department of Defense is working through appropriate channels and in accordance with all applicable legal requirements in order to acquire a limited amount of leased space in Trump Tower," said Army Lt. Col. J.B. Brindle, as reported by the Associated Press. "The space is necessary for the personnel and equipment who will support the POTUS at his residence in the building." 

It's customary for the Defense Department to rent or otherwise obtain space near a president's home; the military similarly rented space near former President Obama's Chicago residence. 

This also wouldn't be the first time a government agency has rented from the person it was assigned to protect. The Secret Service rented space in former Vice President Joe Biden's home in Delaware, albeit at a much lower cost than the space in Trump Tower. 

But the possibility of the military paying millions in rent to a company owned by the president has raised some eyebrows. 

"I have never heard of a president charging rent to the DOD or any other part of the government so they can be near him on his travels," Richard Painter, a former chief White House ethics counsel under George W. Bush who is part of a lawsuit accusing Trump of violating a constitutional ban for his continued ownership interest in a Washington hotel, told The Washington Post. "He should give them for free a very limited amount of space and they can rent nearby if needed." 

The situation raises additional questions regarding the unique conflicts of interest that the billionaire business mogul has had to grapple with since his presidential election victory, as Peter Grier reported for The Christian Science Monitor in November. 

"What’s really new about this is with Trump you’ve got a figure who had been an active businessman for his entire career really, up to his victory, in a way no president previously has," Guian McKee, a historian and associate professor at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, told the Monitor at the time. 

It's unclear exactly how much renting space in Trump Tower would cost the department. But entire floors in the Trump Organization-owned tower, which run between 13,000 and 15,000 square feet, typically cost around $1.5 million a year.

The president has yet to return to New York since taking office, but his wife Melania and youngest son, Barron, continue to call the tower home. 

This report contains material from the Associated Press. 

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