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New Emails and Photo Show President Intervened Directly in Decision Not to Sell FBI HQ Property to Potential Trump Hotel Competitors

Oct 18, 2018
Press Release
Top House Democrats Seek More Information On Whether Trump’s Actions Served His Personal Financial Interests

Washington, D.C. (Oct. 18, 2018)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rep. Peter DeFazio, the Ranking Member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, Rep. Mike Quigley, the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, and Rep. Dina Titus, the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management sent a letter to General Services Administration (GSA) Administrator Emily Murphy raising serious concerns about President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to abandon a long-term plan developed over multiple administrations to move the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from its current site on Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C. to a suburban location.

New documents obtained by the Ranking Members show that a more expensive plan to keep the existing property on Pennsylvania Avenue, demolish the existing building, and construct a new facility on the same site—and thereby prevent commercial developers from competing with the Trump Hotel directly across the street—was approved during a meeting with President Trump at the Oval Office on January 24, 2018. 

These new documents include emails that describe this decision as “direction from the White House,” “what POTUS directed everyone to do,” and “the project the president wants.”  The new documents also show that top GSA officials promised to “hold our ground” on this proposal “per the President’s instructions.”

“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,” the Ranking Members wrote.

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.  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 to potential competitors.

“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,” the Ranking Members added.  “He should not have played any role in a determination that bears directly on his own financial interests with the Trump Hotel.  The GSA also should have taken steps to wall off the decision from improper influence.”

Contrary to sworn testimony from Administrator Murphy that she had no communications with President Trump or other White House officials about this decision, an official White House photo shows Murphy, Trump, and others discussing the proposal in the Oval Office on January 24, 2018.

                                                     ​​

Official White House Photo of GSA Administrator
Murphy Meeting with President Trump,
White House Chief of Staff Kelly, and
OMB Director Mulvaney in the Oval Office on Jan. 24, 2018
 

“Even more troubling is that you concealed this information from Congress,” the Ranking Members wrote to Murphy.  “During sworn testimony, you were asked directly and repeatedly whether you had any communications with President Trump or other White House officials about this project.  In response, you withheld information about this and other meetings—omissions the Inspector General warned may have left a ‘misleading’ impression that you ‘had no discussions with White House officials in the decision-making process about the project’.”

Based on the latest projections, the Trump Administration’s new proposal to rebuild the existing Pennsylvania Avenue facility could cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than the long-term relocation plan, but it would accommodate 2,306 fewer employees.

“We have heard no legitimate justification for this decision,” the Ranking members concluded.

Click here to read today’s letter.

Click here to read the new documents.

115th Congress