New Lawsuit Seeks Details of White House, Trump Organization Involvement in FBI Headquarters Decision

American Oversight today filed a suite of lawsuits to uncover the role that President Trump and the Trump Organization played in reversing a long-time plan to relocate the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) headquarters outside of Washington, DC. In its current location at the J. Edgar Hoover building, FBI headquarters sits a block away from the Trump International Hotel.

“This is a prime example of why the president’s refusal to divest from his businesses is so problematic,” said Austin Evers, Executive Director of American Oversight. “If the administration’s abrupt about-face on the long-planned FBI relocation was related to the president’s hotel—and it’s looking increasingly likely that it was—it would take ‘profiting from the presidency’ to a whole new level. The public should know if this decision is what it appears to be: an expensive maneuver intended to shield the president’s businesses from competition.”

American Oversight’s lawsuits against the FBI, Department of Justice (DOJ), General Services Administration (GSA), and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) are the watchdog’s first suite of litigation in its Parallel Investigations Initiative. The initiative aims to amplify congressional oversight by building on document requests from members of Congress and enforcing them in court. House Democrats including Elijah Cummings, Peter DeFazio, Gerald Connolly, Mike Quigley, and Dina Titus last week demanded the release of some of the same documents that American Oversight is seeking, including records related to meetings about the headquarters project between GSA and DOJ, FBI, OMB, or White House officials. Through its independent, parallel effort, American Oversight has created an additional opportunity for transparency and accountability.

Emails released last week by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform indicate that the president was directly involved in GSA’s decision earlier this year to keep FBI offices at the Hoover building. The messages about a January 24, 2018, White House meeting involving President Trump, GSA Administrator Emily Murphy, and FBI, DOJ, and OMB officials include reference to “the project the president wants” and “direction from the White House.”

An August 2018 report from GSA’s Office of Inspector General also concluded that Murphy gave “the misleading impression” that White House officials were not involved in discussions about the headquarters relocation. The report noted that in addition to the January 2018 meeting, White House officials met to discuss the headquarters move in December 2017 with Murphy and OMB officials, as well as in June 2018 with GSA, OMB, DOJ, and FBI. The inspector general also determined that GSA failed to account for the full costs of the project, underestimating the price of keeping FBI headquarters in DC by $516 million.

American Oversight’s suits come after the watchdog filed over a dozen Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in August 2018 with FBI, DOJ, GSA, and OMB related to the decision to stop the FBI headquarters relocation plan. The agencies failed to provide records in response to any of the requests. American Oversight’s suits seek a broad range of documents, including:

  • Notes, agendas, and other documents from GSA, OMB, DOJ, and FBI related to the December 2017, January 2018, and June 2018 White House meetings regarding the FBI headquarters project;
  • Communications between officials at DOJ, FBI, GSA, and OMB—including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at DOJ; Director Christopher Wray and former Director James Comey at FBI; Administrator Emily Murphy and Acting Administrator Tim Horne at GSA; and Director Mick Mulvaney and Deputy Director Russ Vought at OMB—and a) White House officials mentioning the headquarters project and b) anyone associated with the Trump Organization or Trump Hotels, including Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., and Eric Trump; and
  • Any communications from certain DOJ, FBI, GSA, and OMB officials, including those listed above, mentioning terms related to the headquarters project or the Trump Organization.

See all the complaints here.