A group of House Democrats accused President Donald Trump of personally intervening to halt a plan to redevelop the current FBI headquarters that would have potentially resulted in competition to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. It also accuses the head of the government’s procurement and real estate division of providing misleading and incomplete testimony about Trump’s actions, citing emails and providing extracts of those messages.
For years, the FBI had a long-term plan to build a new headquarters in a suburban location, and to sell its current complex—which is located on Pennsylvania Avenue across from the Trump International Hotel—for demolition and commercial development that likely would have included a hotel and conference facilities.
The Trump hotel opened in September 2016, and prior to becoming president, Trump wanted to acquire the property. However, after he was elected, Trump opposed the relocation, reportedly because of the concern that a hotel built on the property could take business from his. Trump turned over day-to-day management of the Trump Organization to his older sons, but maintains a direct financial interest and benefit from the operations.
After steadily advancing the FBI headquarters move over the previous five years, the GSA abruptly canceled the plan in July 2017. That decision came despite finding that rebuilding the facility on the same site would have cost more than building a new campus and selling the location, as well as be inadequate to house all personnel currently spread out among multiple locations.
In emails obtained by the House Democrats, they imply that in meetings with the White House, Murphy and other GSA personnel were given new direction. After a Dec. 20, 2017 meeting with with Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, and budget director, Mick Mulvaney, the GSA’s commissioner for public service buildings, Dan Matthews, emailed the FBI’s CFO, Richard Haley, telling him, “The meeting took an unexpected turn as soon as we got there,” and asked to set up a call.
After a Jan. 24, 2018 meeting in the Oval Office, the FBI’s Haley wrote Matthews to say, “Also, for your pocket, gsa and fbi are working closer now than at any time before. Both teams are closely aligned, and now that we have a direction from WH that will continue to tighten relationship forward.” The Democrats point to a photograph showing the president, Murphy, and FBI and White House officials together at that meeting, at which they allege the president ordered this change.
The GSA said today that the FBI made the decision, and that the emails were taken out of context. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, “House Democrats have it all wrong,” stating that FBI leadership didn’t want to move headquarters, and that the president wanted to save money. However, heads of the FBI across multiple administrations had eagerly discussed moving to a new suburban location for several years. Maryland and Virginia had both vied to be the new site.
Five Democrats, each the ranking member of their party on House committees, made these allegations in a letter to the General Services Administration (GSA) head, Emily Murphy. The GSA manages procurement for the federal government, including building management and real-estate transactions.
The letter also directly accuses Murphy of concealing information from Congress and providing a misleading impression about details about which she testified. One of the signatories, Gerald Connolly, initially revealed in August 2018 that the GSA’s inspector general had found Murphy’s statements truthful, but potentially incomplete and misleading.
The Trump hotel is already at the nexus of multiple lawsuits brought against the president relating to emoluments, or salaries or fees collected from foreign governments that are prohibited by the Constitution. Courts haven’t yet established whether the fees paid to the Trump Organization for hotel rooms and services equate to emoluments.