- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2019

Lawmakers from both parties on the House Oversight and Reform Committee scolded a top FBI official on Thursday, saying the bureau failed to turn over documents related to the decision to cancel the relocation of its headquarters.

Democrats on the committee have questioned the White House’s role in the decision to abandon the FBI’s plan to relocate from downtown Washington, D.C., to a suburban campus. They have alleged President Trump nixed the move to block a rival hotel from springing up on a lot across from the Trump International Hotel.

Yet it was both Republicans and Democrats who castigated Jill Tyson, FBI’s assistant director of congressional affairs. Panel members alleged the bureau has been uncooperative in their push to learn more about why the relocation plan was scrapped.

“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 her part, Ms. Tyson said the FBI is working in good faith to accommodate the committee, even offering subject matter experts to explain the rationale for the bureau to remain downtown. But she also said the committee’s document request was broad, requiring the bureau to search for records across different agencies and from several years back.

“We are taking a surgical approach to what we believe the committee seeking,” she said, adding the FBI has already handed more than 1,300 documents.

Ms. Tyson said the FBI is trying to balance its need to keep its law enforcement efforts confidential while meeting the committee’s “legitimate” oversight role, sparking a strong rebuke from lawmakers.

“One needs to be very careful. The legislative branch will not be lectured by the executive branch as to what constitutes a legitimate inquiry. That’s our business,” Mr. Connolly said. “We decide what is a legitimate inquiry, not you.”

In April, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray told the House Appropriations Committee that he prefers the bureau construct a new headquarters on the same lot where it now sits. He said it is necessary that the bureau remain within a close proximity to its law enforcement partners, including the Justice Department that is across the street.

Ms. Tyson echoed Mr. Wray’s earlier remarks about the need for the bureau to remain in its current headquarters and renovate the space.

Lawmakers were skeptical of the plan, however.

“I fundamentally so disagree with the decision that’s made,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican. “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.

Corrected from earlier to reflect the number of documents handed over by the FBI as “more than 1,300,” not “13,000.”

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