House Democrats are escalating their demand for documents about President Donald Trump’s involvement in stopping the FBI’s plan to vacate its downtown Washington headquarters ― which happen to sit across the street from the Trump International Hotel.
Congressional investigators have long been suspicious of how and why Trump intervened in the process. If vacated, the current home of the FBI could be filled by a competitor to the president’s D.C. hotel.
Letters went out on Wednesday to the General Services Administration, the FBI and the Department of Justice from heads of multiple congressional committees and subcommittees, including Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
These were the first requests to the FBI and Justice Department for answers about the president’s role in the headquarters decision. The letters seek all documents related to the decision and written answers explaining how Trump came to be involved and who initiated his involvement. They also ask for the FBI’s assistant director for finance and facilities, Richard L. Haley, and the unit chief for the project in question to submit to transcribed interviews.
The third letter, sent to GSA Administrator Emily Murphy, demands that the agency fully comply with the committee chairs’ previous document requests or else face the prospect of a subpoena.
“Your compliance with our request has been woefully inadequate,” the five chairs wrote.
They had pressed Murphy for documents related to Trump’s interference in the FBI building decision in October and met with her staff in December (after the 2018 midterm elections but before control of the House formally switched to the Democrats). Following the December meeting, the five lawmakers received only highly redacted documents that had already been turned over to their respective committees. If Murphy does not comply by March 20, “we will be forced to consider alternative means to obtain compliance,” Wednesday’s letter states.
Murphy has been under fire from House Democrats since she told a congressional oversight hearing in April 2018 that the decision to stop the FBI from moving its headquarters came solely from the bureau with no presidential involvement.
This statement was “incomplete and may have left the misleading impression that she had no discussions with White House officials in the decision-making,” according to an inspector general report on Murphy’s comments released in August 2018. That report stated that Murphy and other GSA officials had multiple meetings with Trump about the FBI headquarters.
Internal GSA emails disclosed by House Democrats in October 2018 revealed agency officials discussing “the President’s instructions,” “direction from WH” and “what was decided in the meeting with POTUS” in January 2018.
All of the problems with the president’s involvement in the GSA’s procurement plans stem from his decision prior to taking office to retain ownership of his multibillion-dollar real estate and licensing business.
Trump’s business won the right to operate a luxury hotel out of the GSA-owned Old Post Office building in Washington in 2014. Even though the lease contract states that no federal officeholder can take part in the lease, the GSA declared that he was not in violation of the agreement after he won the 2016 election.
An inspector general report released in January of this year, however, determined that the GSA ignored significant legal issues when it said Trump was not in violation of the lease. According to the report, agency officials knew that the contract could cause problems under the Constitution’s emoluments clause ― which forbids federal officials from receiving any benefit from foreign governments, U.S. state governments or federal agencies ― but ignored the issue.
The report concluded that a “constitutional cloud” remained over the president’s continued operation of the Trump International Hotel.