Key House Democrats pressed the head of the General Services Administration to provide more information Thursday about President Donald Trump’s role in the proposal to rebuild the FBI headquarters building on its current footprint on Pennsylvania Ave.
“As a direct result of President Trump’s clear conflict of interest on this matter, we are now requesting information and documents to determine whether the President is making decisions about the FBI headquarters building based on what is best for the country or what is best for his own financial bottom-line,” wrote the five House members, who are all ranking members of relevant committees or subcommittees.
Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland joined in the letter with Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon, Oversight subcommittee ranking members Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia and Dina Titus of Nevada, and perhaps most significantly, Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois, the top Democrat on the Financial Services and General government subcommittee of Appropriations, which controls GSA funding.
The letter, directed to GSA Administrator Emily Murphy, highlights an official White House photo of a January 24 meeting in the Oval Office in which Murphy was with Trump, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney and Chief of Staff John Kelly.
“Many years before becoming President, Donald Trump expressed interest in the FBI headquarters moving out of Washington, D.C. so he could acquire the land on Pennsylvania Avenue and redevelop the property, which is directly across the street from the Trump International Hotel,” the ranking members wrote in the letter. “However, after he was sworn in as President — and became ineligible as a federal employee to obtain the property — he reportedly became ‘dead opposed’ to the government selling the property, which would have allowed commercial developers to compete directly with the Trump Hotel.”
“Given this background, President Trump should have avoided all interactions or communications relating to the FBI headquarters project to prevent both real and perceived conflicts of interest. He should not have played any role in a determination that bears directly on his own financial interests with the Trump Hotel,” Cummings and company wrote in the letter.
The Thursday letter includes a long list of demands for document production, including any and all correspondence between GSA and the White House regarding how GSA officials should handle queries that might come in about potential conversations with Trump about the FBI project.
During the Obama administration, a plan was developed calling for the FBI to relocate its headquarters from the site of the J. Edgar Hoover Building and consolidate functions on a campus in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, but that was scrapped under the Trump administration.
Representatives of the FBI have said, including in congressional testimony, that it was the FBI’s determination that the law enforcement agency’s headquarters should remain in D.C., near the Department of Justice building.
That was among the points emphasized by the GSA following the release of an office of inspector general report in late August.
“As the FBI’s representative stated under oath before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, the FBI made the decision to keep its headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue. GSA is unaware of any White House involvement in the FBI’s decision,” the statement said. “Further, GSA stands by the cost analysis in its revised plan, as those numbers are accurate, transparent, and more representative of the full costs of the project than the analysis put forth in the IG review.”
The GSA reiterated that point again in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
“A number of emails referenced in today’s congressional letter are taken out of context and refer to the project’s funding approach, not the location decision. Suggestions that those emails indicate presidential involvement in the location decision are inaccurate,” the GSA said. “GSA stands by its testimony and the cost analysis proposed in the joint revised plan submitted to Congress in February.”