Democrats suggest Trump had conflicts in deciding fate of FBI headquarters originally appeared on abcnews.go.com
President Donald Trump inserted himself personally into his administration's discussion of the fate of the FBI headquarters in downtown Washington near his D.C. hotel, according to new emails released by Democrats Thursday, raising questions about possible conflicts of interest between the government's actions and the president's personal business holdings.
Democrats, citing the new documents obtained by the House Oversight Committee, accused General Services Administrator Emily Murphy of misleading Congress about the White House's involvement in the plans in testimony before a House committee.
The documents "show that a more expensive plan to keep the existing property on Pennsylvania Avenue, demolish the existing building, and construct a new facility on the same site-and thereby prevent commercial developers from competing with the Trump Hotel directly across the street-was approved during a meeting with President Trump at the Oval Office on January 24, 2018," Democrats wrote Thursday.
In an email exchange after the January 2018 meeting, GSA officials discussed producing a document memorializing the Oval Office conversation.
"Ideally I think it would first recap the oval office meeting with what POTUS directed everyone to do then ask Emily(GSA) to execute POTUS's orders," GSA acting chief of staff P. Brennan Hart wrote in an email on January 27.
The Trump Organization had arranged to lease the Old Post Office building from the federal government prior to Trump's bid for the White House, and the GSA is now the landlord of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, which is located just blocks away from the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover Building.
In their letter to Murphy, Democrats, led by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, said the committee is seeking more information and documents "to determine whether the President is making decisions about the FBI headquarters building based on what is best for the country of what is best for his own financial bottom-line."
The disclosures come on the heels of new reports from the agency's inspector general, and a report Thursday in the New York Times, which raise questions about President Trump's decision to intervene personally in the real estate discussions surrounding the iconic Pennsylvania Avenue property.
The White House denied claims that President Trump attempted to influence the real estate decisions about the FBI headquarters building.
"The idea that the reason the president wanted the F.B.I. headquarters to remain in its current location is based on anything other than the recommendation of the F.B.I. is simply false," said Lindsay Walters, a White House spokeswoman, in a statement to ABC News.
In August, the GSA inspector general, an internal independent watchdog, concluded that Murphy initially misled Congress about Trump's interest in the project, writing that she provided "incomplete" testimony about conversations with the president and White House officials about the FBI headquarters project.
After suggesting to Congress that the president had no role in the discussions during a House Appropriations Committee hearing in April, Murphy was later shown to have attended two meetings at the White House in January on the relocation plan, including one meeting with Trump in the Oval Office, where the plans were discussed, the report said.
Asked twice about the White House's role by Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., Murphy said the directions to redevelop the downtown headquarters came from the FBI.
Murphy's testimony "was incomplete and may have left the misleading impression that she had no discussions with the President or senior White House officials in the decision-making process about the project," the inspector general concluded.
After releasing the documents - including emails and a photo of Trump meeting with Murphy in the Oval Office - Cummings and other Democrats said Trump "should have avoided all interactions or communications relating to the FBI headquarters project to prevent both real and perceived conflicts of interest."
"He should not have played any role in a determination that bears directly on his own financial interests with the Trump Hotel. The GSA also should have taken steps to wall off the decision from improper influence."
At stake was a plan to move the FBI headquarters out of the city - a relocation that had been in the works for several years and narrowed down to three possible sites in Maryland and Virginia in 2013. The watchdog found that the revised plan to demolish and rebuild the headquarters in Washington could be more expensive than initial plans to relocate the agency.
A GSA spokesperson insisted Thursday "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," adding that it stands by its testimony.
"Suggestions that those emails indicate presidential involvement in the location decision are inaccurate," said Pamela Dixon, a GSA spokeswoman. "As previously testified by GSA and the FBI, the leadership team at the FBI made the decision to keep its headquarters at the current Pennsylvania Avenue location."
The New York Times reported Thursday that Trump had long held a personal interest in the fate of the FBI building. The newspaper report, citing congressional sources, said an executive for The Trump Organization had at one point raised concerns that, if the site was redeveloped into a hotel, new competition from across Pennsylvania Avenue could imperil the business prospects of the Trump hotel. The report said the executive sought assistance from a member of Congress to restrict what could be built on the F.B.I. site.
A federal judge recently ruled that congressional Democrats could proceed with a lawsuit against the president centered on his D.C. hotel and some other businesses and whether he is profiting illegally from their business with foreign governments.