Five House Democrats alleged Thursday that President Trump had personally ordered that the FBI headquarters remain in downtown Washington so that a potential competitor could not develop the site, a claim the agency which manages real estate for the federal government dismissed as "inaccurate."
In a letter, Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland; Gerry Connolly of Virginia; Dina Titus of Nevada; Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Mike Quigley of Illinois claimed Trump was "directly involved with the decision to abandon the long-term relocation plan and instead move ahead with the more expensive proposal to construct a new building on the same site, and thereby prevent Trump Hotel competitors from acquiring the land."
The letter cites correspondence from a senior official at the federal General Services Administration (GSA) who outlined a January Oval Office meeting and described the headquarters decision as "what POTUS directed everyone to do." Another email describes steps that will be "necessary to deliver the project the president wants on the timetable he wants it done."
In a written statement, the GSA said that "the leadership team at the FBI made the decision to keep its headquarters at the current Pennsylvania Avenue location. A number of emails referenced in today’s congressional letter are taken out of context and refer to the project's funding approach, not the location decision.
"Suggestions that those emails indicate presidential involvement in the location decision are inaccurate," the statement added.
An inspector general's report released earlier this year revealed that Trump participated in meetings in which the FBI headquarters issue was discussed, but offered no conclusions about whether the president pushed to keep the headquarters downtown. The watchdog noted that GSA employees were instructed not to discuss any statements Trump made at those meetings.
The correspondence cited by Democrats was also available to the inspector general, but Democrats are attaching more significance to the letters than the IG did.
Trump owns a downtown hotel across the street from FBI headquarters that could face competition if the FBI's current location is opened to private redevelopment, which could include another hotel. Before running for office, Trump expressed interest in redeveloping the property himself.
Officials in suburban Maryland and Virginia have long competed to be chosen as the site for a potential new FBI headquarters in the Washington D.C. suburbs. Such a project could bring more than 10,000 jobs.
Connolly, whose district covers a wide swath of northern Virginia, said Thursday that the letters represent significant circumstantial evidence, given the overall context of the project. For more than a decade, Connolly said, the plan to move FBI headquarters to the suburbs was widely accepted as the most logical alternative. The current J. Edgar Hoover building, built in 1974, is crumbling badly. The space is not big enough to consolidate all FBI personnel, and modern security requirements impose building restrictions that would be extremely difficult to meet at the existing location, Connolly said. Advocates of a suburban location say it would be less expensive and more efficient.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.