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Why Trump's role in the FBI headquarters project matters

The current FBI headquarters is a block away from Trump's DC hotel. It makes the president's role in the FBI building's future ... problematic.
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.

There have been reports for months about Donald Trump's keen interest in the FBI's headquarters and its future. Axios reported last month, 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 president was reportedly heard saying, "This is a great address. They need to stay there. But it needs a total revamp."

With this in mind, a Roll Call  report from yesterday afternoon raised a few eyebrows.

President Donald Trump was more intimately involved in the debate over relocating the FBI headquarters than Congress was told, a new inspector general report finds.Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, a Democrat representing parts of Northern Virginia, said the report he requested from the General Services Administration IG confirmed his suspicions that the president was involved in the decision to scrap plans to vacate the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building on Pennsylvania Avenue, and move the agency to a campus location in either the Maryland or Virginia suburbs.

In a press statement, the Virginia congressman said, "When we began this investigation, the prospect that President Trump was personally involved in the government-led redevelopment of a property in close proximity to the Trump Hotel was dismissed as a conspiracy theory. Now, the president's involvement in this multi-billion-dollar government procurement which will directly impact his bottom line has been confirmed by the White House Press Secretary and government photographs."

This might seem like a dry topic for a political debate -- no one has ever used references to the General Services Administration as click-bait -- but there may be a real story here.

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.

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: many of the hotel's rooms have a view of the bureau's current home.

All of which makes it interesting that the White House was directly involved in the talks about plans for the building. In fact, the Washington Post  reported that the GSA's inspector general concluded that the agency's officials "may have misled Congress about the White House's role in canceling a decade-long search for a new FBI headquarters campus in the Washington suburbs last year."

Emily Murphy, administrator of the General Services Administration -- which manages federal real estate -- met with President Trump, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and budget director Mick Mulvaney over the course of two meetings on Jan. 24.In a congressional hearing discussing the project three months later, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) asked 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 responded by saying: "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, 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 may have another controversy on his hands.