The Justice Department’s inspector general said it will probe a decision to scrap plans to move the FBI headquarters out of Washington to the DC suburbs, a decision that may have benefited President Donald Trump’s nearby hotel.
“The OIG is initiating a review that will assess the DOJ’s and FBI’s planning for a future FBI Headquarters facility,” Inspector General Michael Horowitz wrote in a letter to House committee chairmen, including Elijah Cummings of Oversight and Peter DeFazio of Transportation and Infrastructure, both Democrats.
Plans to relocate the FBI from the aging Hoover building had been in the works since at least 2012. Those plans called for giving the prime real estate on Pennsylvania Avenue to a developer in exchange for a discount on construction of the new headquarters elsewhere.
That exchange, or the property’s sale, could have resulted in the construction of a hotel to compete with Trump’s hotel a block away.
But in 2017 and early 2018, the FBI’s new leadership began to reconsider, preferring to instead stay in the nation’s capital. Government property managers at the General Services Administration called off the exchange idea, saying the developers who had expressed interest believed the Hoover Building site to be worth less than officials had anticipated.
The decision ultimately went to the White House, and was discussed in an Oval Office meeting with the President.
A separate inspector general review last summer concluded the head of the General Services Administration, which is responsible for government facilities, avoided telling Congress about the President’s role in the decision. The testimony from GSA Administrator Emily Murphy was “incomplete” and may have misled Congress, the GSA inspector general found.
The agency spokeswoman disputed that characterization of her testimony and called it “truthful.” Photos of that meeting were eventually released.
Earlier this year, the GSA provided Congress with a report downplaying the importance of the Oval Office meeting. The decision for the FBI to remain at its current site was “effectively settled” prior to the Oval Office meeting.
Cummings, DeFazio and several colleagues said the inspector general’s probe would “supplement our ongoing effort to get to the truth.”
“For months, our Committees have investigated the Administration’s sudden change of heart on a federal property across the street from the President’s namesake hotel, but because the FBI has withheld key decision-making documents from Congress, we have been left with many unanswered questions,” their joint statement issued Wednesday said.
The Justice Department inspector general’s office declined to comment further than its summary of the probe.