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House Democrats Push Harder On Trump's Role In Locating New FBI Headquarters

FBI leaders hoped to move to a larger new headquarters outside of Washington, but a new plan would replace the current headquarters on the same site. Democrats want more information.
Mark Wilson
Getty Images
FBI leaders hoped to move to a larger new headquarters outside of Washington, but a new plan would replace the current headquarters on the same site. Democrats want more information.

House Democrats want more documents regarding the FBI's future move to a new headquarters, a project that changed direction after officials from the FBI and other agencies met with President Trump last January.

The White House and the federal government's property management agency "allowed President Trump to participate directly in a decision that affects his own personal financial interests," the lawmakers wrote.

The FBI had wanted to move to a large, new office complex in the Washington suburbs, leaving its obsolete J. Edgar Hoover Building to be demolished.

The original plan was to sell the Hoover building site to a developer. But after the White House meeting in January, the General Services Administration, which handles federal property and office buildings, announced that project was off.

The GSA and FBI later said they were getting behind a new plan to tear down the FBI's Hoover headquarters and build a new home for the bureau on the same site.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders doesn't dispute that Trump has been involved in the project, but she cited a desire by FBI leaders not to move, and by Trump to save money for the government.

The Democrats' new letter cites an inter-agency email challenging both assertions.

"How is this a good deal?"

A few weeks after the White House meeting, Andrew Abrams, a high ranking official at the Office of Management and Budget, wrote to Brennan Hart, chief of staff to the head of the GSA, with what he called "the hardest-hitting FBI HQ question."

The question: "How is this a good deal for the FBI or taxpayers?"

Abrams said a new downtown headquarters would be smaller and less secure, and would cost more per occupant. He noted the plan lacked funds for relocating 2,300 FBI employees who wouldn't fit in the new building. The government also would not profit, or save tax dollars, from selling the site.

The FBI's current headquarters can't accommodate all the people who support its operations in Washington; they work at offices around the region. Under the previous plan, FBI leadership supported a larger new headquarters that could hold many more workers.

GSA considered the $3.5 billion suburban complex for the FBI under President Barack Obama. In fact, Trump and his family showed some interest in developing the downtown site that would have been freed up by the demolition of the Hoover building.

Now, Democrats charge that Trump has changed his tune because he doesn't want another hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue to compete with his. The Trump hotel at the Old Post Office Pavilion, which Trump's company leases from GSA, is an essential component of his real estate empire, as its profits rise and some other elements falter.

The letter was signed by five House members who are the top Democrats on their committees or subcommittees:

Elijah Cummings of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Peter DeFazio of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Gerald Connelly of the oversight subcommittee on government operations, Mike Quigley of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees general government matters, and Dina Titus of the transportation subcommittee that oversees public buildings.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.