The General Services Administration’s (GSA) inspector general just released a report which claims that President Donald Trump personally took part in discussions regarding the rebuilding of the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Coming in at 36 pages, the report authored by GSA Inspector General (IG) Carol Fortine Ochoa stands in stark contrast to previous statements from the Trump administration about the FBI headquarters project.
Last February, the GSA announced plans to keep the FBI headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C.–at exactly the same location–by razing and rebuilding the J. Edgar Hoover building. This announcement provided five years worth of backtracking from a previously-in-progress plan to move the FBI out of the disenfranchised district which comprises the nation’s capital.
Three suburban options for a new 11,000-capacity campus in Virginia or Maryland were shelved and hopes that a massive commercial redevelopment of the northwest block of Pennsylvania Avenue–the block across the street from the Trump International Hotel–were dashed against the beige-meh walls of the literally immovable D.C. bureaucracy.
As the GSA IG report notes, this came after GSA officials spoke at length with White House officials–including President Trump himself.
At least one such meeting occurred on January 24 of this year. In attendance at this meeting were White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, GSA Administrator Emily Murphy and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
Additional meetings regarding the project took place with Trump administration officials as early as December 20, 2017. In attendance at this first meeting were Murphy, Kelly, GSA Public Buildings Commissioner Dan Mathews and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. The December 20 meeting is alleged to be the first time the Trump administration floated the raze-and-rebuild plan in lieu of the five-year-planned move to the suburban outlying areas of the D.C. metropolis.
During congressional testimony in spring of this year, however, the GSA’s Mathews and Murphy may have misrepresented the White House meetings in question. The report notes:
[O]n February 28, 2018, the Senate EPW Committee held its “Hearing on Oversight: FBI Headquarters Consolidation Project.” At the hearing, committee members expressed bipartisan concern about the revised plan. In response to a question regarding whether he was aware of conversations with the President about the project, Mathews indicated that he was not in a position to answer that question. Mathews was also asked whether he had any conversations or communications with the President or any senior White House staff about the project. Mathews answered that he had not spoken with the President, but later clarified that he had spoken with senior White House officials.
Also cited is Murphy’s April appearance before the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. The report categorizes Murphy’s testimony in no uncertain terms:
She was questioned about White House involvement in the FBI headquarters project and did not disclose the White House meetings.
The upshot here is that the Trump administration appears to have misled Congress about the White House’s involvement in an abrupt change to longstanding FBI plans. To what end, if any, remains an open question. In response, Democratic representative Gerald E. Connolly has called for returning to the original FBI plan. In a lengthy statement, Connolly wrote:
Regarding the future of this procurement, we must wipe the slate clean in light of these troubling revelations. The GSA and FBI must return immediately to the plan for a fully consolidated FBI headquarters at one of the sites selected as part of the original procurement. The hardworking men and women of the FBI deserve a functional headquarters without further delay.
Some media reports erroneously characterized Trump’s intervention as motivated by a desire to keep the FBI’s new headquarters away from the Trump International Hotel in D.C. But in reality, Trump’s intervention here appears to have ultimately resulted in the FBI staying within throwing distance of the president’s only D.C. namesake.
[image via via MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images]