- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Justice Department’s inspector general will investigate the FBI’s role in the decision to scrap its decade-long plan to move its headquarters to suburban District of Columbia, according to a letter released Wednesday.

Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz sent a letter to the four key House lawmakers announcing that he will examine the decisions that led to the Justice Department and FBI abandoning a plan to move to the D.C. suburbs in favor of building an updated headquarters on the same location it now occupies in downtown Washington.

“The review will include an examination of the DOJ’s and FBI’s progress in its planning, their assessment and consideration of the previously proposed plan to move FBI headquarters to a suburban location and their assessment and consideration of the plan to demolish the J. Edgar Hoover Building and construct a new facility on that site,” Mr. Horowitz wrote in the letter dated Tuesday and made public a day later.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment.

The probe could uncover new information about how big of a role President Trump played in the decision to cancel the FBI’s relocation.

Democrats have pushed for Mr. Horowitz to investigate the process that would have moved the bureau of the crumbling Hoover building into a larger, more secure suburban campus. They say Mr. Trump nixed the move to block a rival hotel from springing up on the lot — prime downtown D.C. real estate that sits across from the Trump International Hotel.

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, said as much in a Wednesday statement welcoming the investigation.

“For months, our committees have investigated the administration’s sudden change of heart on a federal property across the street from the President’s namesake hotel, but because the FBI has withheld key decision-making documents from Congress, we have been left with many unanswered questions,” he said. “We welcome the IG’s independent examination, which will supplement our ongoing effort to get to the truth.”

The inspector-general letter was sent to Mr. Cummings and Rep. Peter DeFazio, Oregon Democrat and chairman of the Transportation and Infrastucture committee. Mr. Horowitz also addressed his note to the chairmen of two of those panels’ subcommittees.

The FBI and General Services Administration have balked at document requests from House Democrats intent on learning more about Mr. Trump’s influence on the decision. The issue came to a head at a House Oversight and Reform panel hearing last week, when lawmakers from both parties criticized a top FBI official for failing to turn over documents.

“Assume there is nothing there. Assume this is as innocent as a newborn babe,” said Rep. Gerald Connolly, Virginia Democrat. “The more the FBI holds back documents, the more it does a disservice to the president, given the suspicious nature of this town.”

“Maybe it’s helping FBI prerogatives, but it is not helping the president,” he continued.

For roughly a decade prior to Mr. Trump’s election, the FBI and GSA had worked together to build a massive campus in the Washington suburbs, with the finalists in the competition being Greenbelt, Maryland, and Springfield, Virginia. But shortly after Mr. Trump’s election, the FBI announced it would prefer to remain in its downtown Hoover Building headquarters and relocate staff to other FBI locations throughout the country.

The GSA says it is cheaper for the FBI to remain in its current location, but others have disagreed with that claim. In fact, the GSA’s own inspector general concluded the Trump administration’s plan is more expensive and would stymie the bureau’s ability to grow.

Trump administration officials have also maintained that the president did not play a role in the decision to cancel the FBI’s relocation plan. GSA head Emily Murphy testified earlier this year that FBI Director Christopher A. Wray pushed to stay at the Hoover building.

Mr. Wray backed up her account in his own congressional testimony. In April, he told the House Appropriations Committee that the FBI needs to remain in proximity to its law enforcement partners, including the Justice Department, which is across the street.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have scoffed at Mr. Wray’s claim that remaining in its current spot would be better for the bureau.

At a hearing on the matter last week, one of Mr. Trump’s most ardent supporters, Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican, blasted the decision not to move.

“I fundamentally so disagree with the decision that’s made,” Mr. Meadows said. “I am trying to be neutral, but it is wrong. It just is wrong. There is no way it is an efficient use of taxpayer dollars.”

“I don’t tell the FBI how to do law enforcement, and it would serve Director Wray well to not tell this member of Congress how to do real estate well. He is not a real estate guy,” said Mr. Meadows, a former real estate developer.

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