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Washington — Michigan Sen. Gary Peters is questioning the decision to exempt a tourist attraction inside the Trump International Hotel during the partial government shutdown.  

Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, wrote Friday to federal officials, seeking answers about who decided to continue staffing the historic clock tower with National Park Service rangers inside the federally owned Old Post Office building that houses Trump's Washington hotel. 

The federal government leases the Old Post Office to the Trump International Hotel, which is operated by President Donald Trump's Trump Organization. 

Peters wrote that "the lengths to which to your agencies have gone to open the tower facility within a Trump business enterprise have raised public concerns that the tower may be receiving special treatment, in light of a shutdown that has left 800,000 federal workers furloughed or working without pay and crippled our national parks."

Peters, the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wants answers about why operating the tower is a priority, while other "critical" National Park Service safety and security functions go unattended during the shutdown. 

He noted the lapse in funding has shuttered the Smithsonian museums and that trash is piling up at national parks across the country, "putting people and wildlife in jeopardy." 

"At least three people have died at national park sites since the shutdown began," Peters wrote. "Conditions are being described as 'dire' and on the brink of causing lasting damage and financial repercussions for parks and surrounding communities."

The General Services Administration, which owns the Old Post Office building and leases it to the Trump Organization, said in a statement this month that the exemption for the building is "unrelated to the facility's tenant."

The GSA said it's required under federal law to keep the observation tower open and is authorized to pay for National Park rangers to operate it through the Federal Buildings Fund. The money remains available "notwithstanding a lapse in appropriations," according to the agency.

"GSA continues to use this balance to fund not only this agreement but its other service contracts and agreements across the country, including building maintenance contracts, janitorial service contracts and utility bills," GSA spokeswoman Amanda Osborn said. 

"If and when the account no longer has available balances, all building operation services paid for out of that account will then be impacted by the lapse."

In his letter to the GSA and Department of Interior, Peters seeks information on any communications the agencies had with the White House or Trump business entities concerning the decision to fund and reopen the tower. He requested a response by Jan. 31.

mburke@detroitnews.com 

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