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New questions surround Trump's role in the FBI headquarters project

In case Trump weren’t already facing enough corruption allegations, he appears to have another controversy on his hands. This one's about the FBI headquarters.
The J. Edgar Hoover Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) building stands in Washington, D.C., Aug. 8, 2013. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)
The J. Edgar Hoover Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) building stands in Washington, D.C., Aug. 8, 2013.

As regular readers know, Donald Trump's keen interest in the FBI's headquarters has been at the center of an ongoing controversy. Axios reported in July, for example, that the president doesn't just rant about the current building's appearance, he also "wants to oversee the project at an excruciating level of detail."

The piece added that there's been a debate ongoing for quite a while about whether to leave the FBI where it is or relocate the bureau's headquarters to a nearby suburb. An Axios source said Trump is "dead opposed to plans to move it out of D.C."

The question is why. Congressional Democrats are increasingly eager to get an answer.

President Donald Trump was more instrumental than previously known in scrapping plans to move the FBI headquarters out of Washington to the DC suburbs, according to newly released internal government emails. [...]The documents were released Thursday by House Democrats in a letter to General Services Administrator Emily Murphy that suggests she misled Congress about the President's involvement.

Let's back up for a minute to review how we reached this point, because there's a controversy here that could pose meaningful trouble for the White House.

For those unfamiliar with D.C., the Federal Bureau of Investigation is currently located along Pennsylvania Avenue, about four blocks east of the White House.

As we've discussed, it's also about a block from the Trump International Hotel, which the president still owns and profits from. If the current FBI headquarters were redeveloped in its existing space, it'd benefit Trump's investment. For that matter, keeping the bureau in its current home would guarantee that a competing hotel wouldn't go in at that location.

All of which makes it interesting that the Trump White House was directly involved in the talks about plans for the building.

Congressional Democrats today released materials on a Jan. 24, 2018, meeting at which Trump spoke directly with General Services Administrator Emily Murphy about abandoning the plan to relocate the FBI to a larger campus in a nearby suburb. Dems included a dated photo from the Oval Office in its newly released package of information.

In a series of emails in the days that followed, the GSA confirmed that the relocation plan was dead, evidently at the president's direction, despite the fact that Trump's preferred approach would cost taxpayers more money. A top GSA official, Brennan Hart, wrote in a Jan 28 email that the FBI project "is a demolition/new construction per the president's instructions."

Three months later, during a congressional hearing, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) asked the GSA's Emily Murphy, "To your knowledge, was the president or anyone else at the White House involved in those discussions, either with your predecessors, people you're working with now, or yourself?"

Murphy replied: "The direction that we got came from the FBI. It was the FBI that directed to GSA as to what its requirements would be. We obviously did coordinate, given that it is a substantial budget request, we coordinated that request with OMB to provide for funding but the requirements were generated by the FBI."

Murphy did not, however, mention the White House meetings as part of her answer.

Let’s note for context that shortly after Trump’s inauguration, an Obama-appointed General Services Administration official named Norman Dong became acting administrator. Politico reported last year that seven-and-a-half hours after Dong took over, Trump replaced him with Tim Horne, “a Denver-based GSA official who had coordinated the agency’s transition with the Trump team.”

Horne was replaced by Emily Murphy, the current Trump appointee, late last year.

As for why the Republican president might have a keen interest in the usually obscure GSA so soon after taking office, this is the agency responsible for overseeing the lease on the president’s hotel -- a lease that seems to include a provision that suggests the hotel can’t benefit a public official.

In case Trump weren’t already facing enough corruption allegations, he appears to have another controversy on his hands.