House Democrats demand answers from Trump administration about plans for FBI headquarters

Bart Jansen
FBI Headquarters in Washington, DC on Wednesday, July 30, 2008.

WASHINGTON – House Democrats are asking the Trump administration for more information about the decision to keep the FBI headquarters across the street from Trump International Hotel downtown, which they criticized as $500 million more expensive than moving to the Washington suburbs.

The General Services Administration, the agency that oversees federal buildings, and the FBI provided plans to the Senate in February to keep headquarters at 935 Pennsylvania Ave. and construct a new building there, rather than move to the suburbs as had been long planned.

But Democrats have criticized Trump for meeting with GSA Administrator Emily Murphy on Jan. 24, while the decision was being made about the valuable property across the street from his namesake hotel.

An inspector general’s report in August found the suburban location estimated to cost $3.565 billion and allow for a $334 million sale of the existing property. That compared to an estimate of $3.844 billion to stay downtown in a building that houses 2,306 fewer FBI employees, according to the inspector general. The higher costs include relocating the workers to FBI offices in four states and construction on those buildings.

House Democrats asked Thursday in a 10-page letter to Murphy for a timeline of all discussions between the White House, GSA and the FBI about the headquarters.

“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 based on what is best for the country or what is best for his own bottom line,” the lawmakers said in the letter. “We have heard no legitimate justification for this decision.”

The letter was from five top Democrats on key committees that oversee federal buildings: Elijah Cummings of Maryland from the Oversight and Government Reform Committee; Peter DeFazio of Oregon from the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; Gerald Connolly of Virginia from the oversight subcommittee on government operations; Mike Quigley of Illinois from the appropriations subcommittee on general government; and Dina Titus of Nevada from the transportation subcommittee on public buildings.

GSA officials said the agency settled on the Pennsylvania Avenue location with the FBI and the agency stuck with its $3.328 billion cost estimate from February for that location.

"As previously testified by GSA and the FBI, the leadership team at the FBI made the decision to keep its headquarters at the current Pennsylvania Avenue location," spokeswoman Pam Dixon said. "GSA stands by its testimony and the cost analysis proposed in the joint revised plan submitted to Congress in February."

GSA officials have refused to disclose what Trump said at the meetings, on advice of White House counsel, and could only disclose who attended, based on White House instructions not to disclose information about confidential meetings between the president and his senior advisors.

The president took an interest in the project because of his background in real estate development, White House officials have said. Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, said Trump is always interested in construction because he knows the field from real-estate development, and found GSA “very impressive” and “knowledgeable.”

The FBI has occupied the J. Edgar Hoover Building since 1974. With an expanded mission since the terrorist attacks in 2001, the FBI has sought new headquarters since 2005. The GSA has wrangled over costs and options for years.