Government Watchdog Raises Questions About Trump's Decision Not To Move FBI

Aug 28, 2018
Originally published on August 28, 2018 4:22 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The FBI needs a new home. Its current headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue here in Washington is literally crumbling. And by all accounts, it doesn't meet the needs of the agency in a post-9/11 world. Members of Congress thought they had a deal to relocate the headquarters to a Washington suburb and sell the valuable downtown site to developers. The Trump administration abruptly canceled that plan. And now a government watchdog has raised questions about why. NPR's Brian Naylor has that story.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The General Services Administration, the GSA, is in essence the government's landlord. It's been deeply involved in the ongoing debate about a replacement for the J. Edgar Hoover Building, the bureau's deteriorating, brutalist-style headquarters, which sits on a prime location on Pennsylvania Avenue. Now the inspector general of the GSA says in a report that the head of the agency, Emily Murphy, may have misled Congress. During a hearing, she failed to disclose that she had met with President Trump at the White House to discuss the FBI project.

Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois questioned Murphy about the decision to cancel the plan to move the FBI out of Washington during an April hearing. Here he is asking for the second time if the White House was involved in the decision.

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MIKE QUIGLEY: But again, to your knowledge, was the president or anyone at the White House involved in those discussions either with your predecessors or people you're working with now or yourself?

EMILY MURPHY: Sir, to my - the - this direction that we got came from the FBI. It was the FBI that directed GSA as to what its requirements would be.

NAYLOR: In fact, what Murphy failed to mention was that she did indeed meet with Trump at the White House this past January and had two other discussions with White House officials about the project. She told the inspector general that her answers during the hearing were literally true. But the IG disagreed in its report, calling them incomplete and possibly misleading.

The cliche goes the three most important things in real estate are location, location, location. The president's involvement in the FBI headquarters discussions are noteworthy because of his ownership of the Trump International Hotel, which happens to be also on the same stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue as the FBI. Democratic Congressman Gerald Connolly of Virginia requested the IG report. He says the government's decision to cancel the FBI's move doesn't pass the smell test.

GERALD CONNOLLY: I think two things are going on. One is that President Trump personally does not want the FBI headquarters site redeveloped, possibly with a hotel and a restaurant, to compete with this hotel almost across the street.

NAYLOR: The second reason, says Connolly, is the president's ongoing feud with the FBI.

CONNOLLY: I think he didn't want to, quote, "reward them," unquote, with a new, functional headquarters.

NAYLOR: The inspector general's report also says the GSA has underreported the cost of demolishing and rebuilding the FBI headquarters on its current site by about half a billion dollars. The suburban Washington district Connolly represents might have been the site of the new FBI headquarters. Two other sites being considered were in Maryland. But Connolly says his concern is more about what he calls the tainted process surrounding the decision to stay on Pennsylvania Avenue. He's called for a hearing in which the GSA head would be brought in to testify under oath about the president's involvement. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF HUBERT DAVIZ'S "AL PATRULEA FRAGMENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.