New Documents Contradict White House Defense of Trump Plan for FBI HQ

Nov 2, 2018
Press Release
White House Warned Internally that Trump Plan Would Cost Taxpayers Millions More—Yet Sanders Claimed President Wanted to Save Money

Washington, D.C. (Nov.2, 2018)—Today, Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, Peter DeFazio, Gerald E. Connolly, Mike Quigley, and Dina Titus sent a letter to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly in light of new documents showing that when Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed two weeks ago that the “President wanted to save the government money” by blocking competitors from purchasing the existing FBI headquarters property across the street from the Trump Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, White House officials had already warned internally that the President’s plan would cost the American taxpayers millions of dollars more—and accommodate thousands fewer—than the longstanding plan to move the FBI headquarters to a new suburban campus.

“These new documents raise serious questions about whether Ms. Sanders issued her statements with knowledge of these facts or, alternatively, without taking basic steps to confirm their accuracy,” the Members wrote.  “Either way, the White House should not be issuing false claims to justify or conceal President Trump’s conflicts of interest on this matter.”

On October 18, 2018, the Members—who serve respectively as the Ranking Members of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations, Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, and Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management—sent a letter to General Services Administration (GSA) Administrator Emily Murphy raising serious concerns about President Trump’s direct involvement in this decision after obtaining evidence of a meeting in the Oval Office on January 24, 2018—a meeting she did not disclose in her sworn testimony to Congress.

In response to the letter two weeks ago, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed:  “The President wanted to save the government money, and also the FBI leadership did not want to move its headquarters.”  She appeared to concede that the President was involved, but offered no explanation for why the White House and GSA allowed him to participate directly in a decision that affects his own personal financial interests.

Today, the Members and released a new email showing that, months earlier, White House officials were fully aware that the Trump plan would cost U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars more than the longstanding relocation plan.  On February 13, 2018, in preparation for Administrator Murphy’s testimony before Congress, Andrew Abrams, the Deputy Associate Director of the Office of Management and Budget, sent an email to Brennan Hart, Administrator Murphy’s chief of staff at GSA. 

According to the email, “the hardest-hitting FBI HQ question” Murphy could face from Members of Congress was this:

Compared to the procurement that FBI and GSA terminated a year ago, the current Hoover raise and replace plan—

  • Proposes a less secure facility
  • Has a higher per seat cost

Nor does the plan—

  •  Account for additional costs associated with moving FBI employees to other locations outside the NCR (that should be captured), or
  • Enable the Federal Government realize the proceeds associated with disposing of JEH

How is this a good deal for FBI or taxpayers?

Six months later, on August 27, 2018, the Inspector General issued a report finding that relocating the FBI headquarters to a suburban location would cost an estimated $3.565 billion, and selling the existing Pennsylvania Avenue property to commercial developers or others could result in proceeds of approximately $334 million, which would significantly offset the costs of the new suburban facility.

In contrast, it would cost an estimated $3.844 billion to retain the Pennsylvania Avenue property, demolish the existing facility, and construct a new building.  This includes an estimated $3.328 billion to rebuild the headquarters building, $57 million to relocate 2,306 FBI personnel who will not fit in the Pennsylvania Avenue facility, and $459 million in construction costs at FBI facilities in Alabama, Idaho, Virginia, and West Virginia to accommodate those employees.

“This email confirms that the White House knew internally what the Inspector General would not report until months later—the fact that suddenly abandoning the relocation plan in favor of the renovation plan would cost the American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars more while housing far fewer employees,” the Members wrote in their letter today.

The Inspector General also disputed Sanders’ second point.  According to interviews conducted with GSA officials, FBI Director Christopher Wray stated that “[i]f the campus scenario offered significant savings,” he was “not opposed to a suburban campus site.”

Click here to read today’s letter. 

115th Congress