Still smarting from the Trump administration’s abrupt cancellation this February of long-standing plans for a new suburban FBI headquarters, an array of Democratic lawmakers from the Washington area are accusing Trump of letting his personal interests influence policy.
During recent talks at the White House on funding the government for fiscal 2019, Trump was said to have ranted about the “terrible” four-decade-old crumbling structure on Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, a White House insider told Axios. "It's one of the brutalist-type buildings, you know, brutalist architecture. Honestly, I think it's one of the ugliest buildings in the city,” the president said.
On Monday that report prompted a series of accusatory tweets and statements from Democratic lawmakers with a personal stake in winning the now-discontinued bidding war for locating a new FBI complex in Maryland or Virginia.
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“It's no surprise Trump is fixated on the FBI HQ,” tweeted Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. “Yet another example of his conflicts of interest. It's prime real estate down the street from Trump International. He has business ties w/ one of the bidders. It's why I asked the IG to investigate.” (General Services Administration watchdog Carol Ochoa accepted the probe.)
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., made similar jabs on social media. “Trump has an obsession with renovating the FBI HQ at its current location—despite recommendations to find a more secure location. Could it be a new hotel there would eat into the profits of the nearby Trump Hotel? We should put the security of FBI before Trump's pocketbook!”
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., urged Trump in a tweet to allow GSA to resume the canceled process of picking a new site.
And Virginia’s Democratic senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine released a joint statement Monday arguing that Trump’s team “has made no progress on replacing a building whose condition will only get worse in the years to come. That’s one reason why it is important that we see the results of the IG investigation into this decision. Our hardworking law enforcement and intelligence professionals deserve a state-of-the-art and secure facility. Having President Trump micromanage this complex procurement—with so many other issues on his plate and so many questions about apparent conflicts of interest here—just isn’t helpful to these public servants or to the region.”
The White House, through press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said, “The president is interested in making sure taxpayer dollars spent on new buildings are being spent wisely and appropriately. He has been a builder all of his life and it should come as no surprise he wants to take the skills and great success he had in the private sector and apply it here.”
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., agreed with the president when he said he’d like to have the FBI headquarters in a “beautiful” location downtown, The Washington Post reported Monday. That is “something that we need to do for safety and everything that goes with it,” Shelby said.
A GSA spokeswoman told Government Executive on Tuesday that “the decision for the FBI headquarters to remain at 935 Pennsylvania Avenue NW was made by the FBI. GSA is committed to continuing its work with partners at the FBI, and in Congress, to provide a modern and secure headquarters facility where the FBI can perform its critical law enforcement and national security work.”
The FBI declined to provide an update.
Though the Trump administration in February produced a slide show with a vision for a new FBI building, GSA has “not submitted an official prospectus to Congress,” according to a spokesman for Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Barrasso has held two hearings “on the issue and the GSA has presented a plan to the committee that would keep the headquarters in Washington D.C,” the spokesman said. “The committee will continue to follow the issue and review GSA’s recommendations.
On the House side, the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill marked up in May included language from Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., that would withhold funding for a new consolidated FBI headquarters until a new prospectus is approved.
As Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said at the time, the Trump proposal to rebuild the facility at the current site in downtown Washington “doesn’t meet the security requirements required by the FBI and doesn’t fully consolidate the headquarters. The Trump administration’s decision earlier this year to suddenly reverse course on this long-studied project was deeply alarming, and until they can fully answer the many questions raised, additional funds should not be appropriated for the project.”