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Democrats demand White House documents on FBI headquarters move

Documents obtained by Democrats show that White House officials knew the decision not to relocate would cost “hundreds of millions” of dollars.
The J. Edgar Hoover Building, seen in 2013, is the headquarters for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images, file

WASHINGTON — House Democrats are seeking more information about President Donald Trump’s involvement in the decision to scrap plans to move the FBI’s headquarters to the Washington suburbs, pointing to new documents that show keeping the headquarters in its current location will cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

In the letter, sent to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Friday, Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are asking for all documents between Trump officials, the Trump Organization and related government agencies about the decision not to relocate the FBI’s headquarters, a move that had been long-discussed.

Five House Democrats, led by ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, charge that Trump did not want to move the location of the FBI headquarters from downtown Washington, D.C. to the suburbs, because the empty land could become a business or hotel that could compete with the Trump Hotel across the street. Trump, before he was president, was interested in developing the FBI property.

In the letter, Democrats point to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ assessment that "the president wanted to save the government money, and also the FBI leadership did not want to move its headquarters."

But documents obtained by the committee show that White House officials knew that keeping the headquarters in its current location would cost taxpayers "hundreds of millions" of dollars.

In an email obtained by the committee dated February 13, 2018, a Deputy Associate Director at the Office of Management and Budget concedes the new plan to rebuild the FBI headquarters downtown as opposed to the suburbs is both more costly and less secure.

In his email, Andrew Abrams appears to be preparing the FBI and GSA for a tough Congressional hearing by suggesting the most difficult question they could face from members of Congress: "Compared to the procurement plan that FBI and GSA terminated a year ago the current … plan proposes a less secure facility and has a higher cost per seat." the email reads.

An August report by the Inspector General notes that demolishing and rebuilding the FBI headquarters instead of building a new building in the suburbs would mean an additional cost of $64,834 per employee.

"These new documents raise serious questions about whether Ms. Sanders issued her statements with knowledge of these facts, or, alternatively, without taking basic steps to confirm their accuracy. Either way, the White House should not be issuing false claims to justify or conceal President Trump’s conflicts of interest on this matter," Cummings writes.

The White House has not responded to a request for a response to the letter.

Last January, days before the General Services Administration announced it was ditching the suburban plan and embracing a new plan to demolish the FBI building and build a new facility on the same location, President Trump met with the head of the GSA in the Oval Office according to a White House photograph.

But when Murphy testified before Congress about the decision to go with the downtown headquarters in April she was asked about White House involvement and did not disclose meeting with the President according to the IG report.

The new headquarters in the suburbs would have accommodated 10,606 FBI staff but the plan to stay downtown would only give enough space for 8,300 meaning other staff would have to be located elsewhere at additional cost according to the IG report. The new plan also sacrifices the revenue the government would have received from the lucrative sale of the downtown property to a developer.