Democrats want answers from Trump administration on FBI headquarters plan

The headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D..C. (Creative Commons via Wikimedia)

WASHINGTON — Five senior House Democrats are demanding that the Trump administration fork over documents regarding the decision to scrap the plan to relocate the FBI headquarters from downtown Washington, D.C., to the suburbs.

The Democrats — Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, Gerry Connolly of Virginia, Dina Titus of Nevada, Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Mike Quigley of Illinois — sent letters to federal agencies asking for more information about the government’s “abrupt” decision to pursue a “more costly plan” to keep the FBI’s current location across the street from the Trump International Hotel.

Democrats have previously sought such information, alleging that President Donald Trump — prior to his election — wanted the FBI headquarters to move so he could buy it for development. After he was sworn in and became ineligible to buy the property, he “reportedly became ‘dead opposed’” to the sale of the land, which would have allowed other developers to compete with the Trump Hotel, Democrats wrote in an October letter.

Virginia’s Democratic senators panned Trump’s interference in the project over the summer. A location in Springfield had been among three finalists for a new building to house all 11,000 Washington-area FBI employees.

The House Democrats — all of whom now hold committee or subcommittee gavels — haven’t been satisfied with the administration’s response.

“To date, your compliance with our request has been woefully inadequate,” they wrote in a letter Wednesday to General Services Administration Administrator Emily Murphy. The Democrats said that they met with GSA staff in December to discuss their request for documents regarding Trump’s role in the decision, but didn’t get all the information they were seeking.

Democratic lawmakers sent additional requests to Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray seeking internal communications from the Justice Department and the FBI about the decision.

The lawmakers wrote that the proposal to rebuild at the FBI’s existing location on Pennsylvania Ave. would cost “hundreds of millions of dollars more than the long-term relocation plan, but it would accommodate 2,306 fewer employees.”

A report from GSA’s inspector general office released last August found that GSA officials had suggested that rebuilding the downtown headquarters would be cheaper than a move to the suburbs, when it would in fact have cost more to keep it downtown.

Maryland and Virginia lawmakers — whose districts could benefit from an FBI relocation to the suburbs — have been particularly interested in the decision to scrap the move.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said last October, “Once again House Democrats have it all wrong. The president wanted to save the government money, and also the FBI leadership did not want to move its headquarters.”

The Democrats asked Wray and Barr to comply with their document requests by March 20. In Murphy’s letter, they asked for the GSA to “comply in full” with their October request by March 20. “If you fail to comply, we will be forced to consider alternative means to obtain compliance,” they told her.