After internal government emails revealed that Donald Trump may have intervened personally to block a long-term relocation plan for the FBI building, a group of House Democrats allege that Trump only did so to divert competition away from his hotel, which is only a few blocks away on Pennsylvania Avenue.
The J. Edgar Hoover building, where the FBI has been located since 1975, not only is falling into disrepair, but its brutalist architecture — made to exude strength — is actually impacting its ability to meet modern security requirements. There's not even enough space for the entire agency; almost 10,000 employees are spread throughout 14 locations in the D.C. area alone. Hence, the plan to relocate the FBI to somewhere more suburban, likely in Maryland, where the agency could accommodate more than enough employees in a brand new, state-of-the-art facility.
However, the FBI and General Services Administration, the agency responsible for managing federal government buildings and property, called for a new plan in February: one that demolishes the J. Edgar Hoover building and construct a new one in its place. That newer plan would be considerably more expensive and time consuming.
Democratic representatives Elijah Cummings, Gerry Connolly, Dina Titus, Peter DeFazio and Mike Quigley penned a letter Thursday to GSA administrator Emily Murphy, claiming she withheld information regarding meetings with the president or other White House officials and, thus, created a "misleading" impression about the nature of the decision-making process.
"Based on the latest projections, the 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," the authors wrote. "We have heard no legitimate justification for this decision."
The letter authors argue that the only reason such a decision would be made is because of Trump's desire to keep business booming across the street at the Trump International Hotel.
"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 letter says. "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."
In addition to the fact Trump may waste government money to ensure his hotel is successful, there's also the issue that many foreign officials have stayed there. Last month, a federal judge green-lit a lawsuit by 200 congressional democrats claiming Trump violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which bars presidents from taking payments from foreign states without Congress’s consent. Some argue that by staying in the hotel, Trump is accepting payment by foreign actors. This hasn't been forgotten.
"When Donald Trump was elected President, both Republican and Democratic ethics experts recommended that he follow the precedent of every other modem president by liquidating his assets and placing the proceeds into a truly blind trust," wrote the small group of Democrats. "They explained that if he failed to do so, conflicts of interest inevitably would arise that would raise questions about his actions. President Trump declined to follow this advice. Instead, he retained ownership of his businesses and claimed he would cede day-to-day control to his sons."
The group now calls for Murphy and the GSA to release information and documents to determine whether or not Trump is in fact making decisions based on "what is best for the country or what is best for his own financial bottom-line."