An investigation into whether President Donald Trump was involved in the decision to keep the FBI on prime Pennsylvania Avenue property is still far from over, lawmakers said Wednesday.
“We’re closer to the beginning than the end of the investigation,” said House Appropriations Financial Services Subcommittee Chairman Mike Quigley following a Wednesday hearing.
The investigation was launched to get more answers on the involvement of President Donald Trump and his administration in the decision to scrap a plan to move the FBI headquarters to a suburban campus.
The “reversal” caused some to question whether the president “wanted to protect his financial interest in the Trump Hotel” from a developer who might acquire the FBI site and build a competing hotel, Quigley said.
Quigley, a Democrat from Illinois, said 2,500 documents were delivered near midnight Tuesday by GSA in partial response to a request he made last year.
“To my knowledge then and now the president had no involvement” in the July 2017 decision to cancel plans for a suburban campus site for the FBI headquarters, General Services Administration Administrator Emily Murphy told appropriators Wednesday.
The only meeting about the headquarters the president was involved in was a meeting six months later on how a new plan to reconstruct the bureau’s headquarters at the Hoover Building site on Pennsylvania Avenue would be paid for, she said.
Murphy recounted a tour of the FBI building, constructed in the 1960s and now requiring nets on the outside of the building to catch falling concrete, that convinced her a move needed to be made as quickly as possible.
The “fastest path to getting them the headquarters” they needed was the suburban concept. But then “the FBI told me that no longer met their needs.”
Quigley noted that in January 2018 testimony, Murphy had favored the campus setting and then shortly after, there was a Jan. 24 meeting with the president about funding the urban option.
“She thought it was a good idea in January, because just a few weeks later there was a meeting” and there was a different result, Quigley said.
Quigley said he hoped Murphy’s earlier support for the campus concept wasn’t simply because appropriators were ready to provide the funding as she testified.
Democrats and Republicans blasted the administration’s about-face on the project, noting that the FBI for years had pushed for a suburban setting, in part because of security concerns posed by an urban building with a limited setback from the street.
“They are different mission needs,” Murphy allowed in comparing the urban and suburban plans.
Ranking member Tom Graves, R-Ga., said that rather than suggesting a real estate motive on the president’s part, “maybe it’s more about an FBI director” who has a different vision for the bureau.
Graves suggested that the committee invite FBI Director Christopher Wray to answer questions about the new plan and Quigley voiced approval for an invitation to testify to the director.
Quigley quizzed Murphy about her meetings about the project with former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, then Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, Wray and a Jan. 24, 2018 meeting with Trump.
Murphy said the meeting with Trump had to do only with how the new plan to rebuild on the existing FBI site, estimated to cost $3.8 billion, would be paid for.
Murphy defended the cost of the project, saying an estimate for the rebuild option would be $279 million more than the suburban campus plan and depended on getting an estimated $334 million for the FBI site.
Murphy said the $334 million figure was, in her view, a low estimate for the current site, but regardless the sale figure shouldn’t be counted in a cost comparison, since the government would no longer have the property as an asset.