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GOP Senator Critical of Report on Trump Involvement in FBI Project

Democrats continue to question real estate, ethics of president‘s involvement in site planning

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., has questions about the scope of the GSA inspector general’s review of the FBI headquarters project. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., has questions about the scope of the GSA inspector general’s review of the FBI headquarters project. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Ron Johnson has questions about the process and methodology employed by an inspector general in reviewing President Donald Trump’s involvement in the FBI headquarters project.

The Wisconsin Republican outlined a series of questions about the scope of the General Services Administration review.

The GSA IG’s office released a report Monday that was critical of Administrator Emily Murphy, citing potentially misleading omissions in congressional testimony about the scope of the GSA’s meetings with senior White House officials and the president.

The GSA noted that the IG, in its review, did agree that the statements were factually accurate.

But the IG also had doubts about the GSA’s comparison of costs related to building a new FBI building on the prime real estate along Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C., versus an exchange that would lead to the agency moving to the suburbs.

Such questions are important, given that a redeveloped FBI site on Pennsylvania Avenue could include commercial and retail facilities that could compete with the Trump International Hotel, which is also located nearby on Pennsylvania Avenue and is operated by the Trump family business. 

In a letter sent Monday to IG Carol F. Ochoa, Johnson, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, requested an unredacted copy of the final report, as well as the case file related to the review.

A copy of Monday’s letter was obtained by Roll Call.

“Please explain why the GSA OIG did not conduct, or seek the assistance of the Department of Justice OIG in conducting formal interview(s) of senior FBI personnel about the FBI’s decision-making process as it concerns the headquarters consolidation project,” Johnson wrote.

Johnson also wants an investigation of the leaking of contents of a draft report, citing an Aug. 7 story from The Washington Post.

While Johnson’s letter focuses on the process of the GSA IG’s work, Democratic senators, including Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen, have been responding with criticism of the GSA leadership.

“The GSA Inspector General’s report confirms what we’ve suspected all along — the decision not to move forward with relocating the FBI headquarters was influenced by the White House and mismanaged from top to bottom. It’s deeply disturbing that the White House prohibited the GSA Administrator from disclosing the full scope of the President’s discussions on this issue,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “Given his personal financial stake in development of a property in close proximity to the Trump International Hotel, the American people are entitled to know precisely what direction he gave. Serious questions also remain about the true costs and security of the GSA plan.”

Likewise, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said the inspector general report showed procedural and practical problems with rebuilding on Pennsylvania Avenue.

“It is clear that the Administration’s flawed approach has failed, and that our law enforcement and intelligence workforce would be best served by returning to plans to build a consolidated headquarters building.,” Warner said.

The GSA said Monday that it was the FBI’s decision to maintain the headquarters facility on Pennsylvania Ave.

Of course, Maryland and Virginia were the two states in contention for the new campus-based FBI headquarters given their proximity to the capital. But it isn’t just Democrats who make their homes in D.C. suburbs who have further questions.

“As the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, I will work to get the answers we need to ensure F.B.I. facility plans are based on what is best for the agency’s employees, their critical mission on behalf of the country, and the taxpayers, not the whims of political appointees,”  Delaware Sen. Thomas R. Carper said in a statement. 

Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated the view of the inspector general regarding Murphy’s testimony.