FBI Headquarters Investigation: Agencies Refusing to Search for Records of Trump Interference to Protect Hotel

Three federal agencies appear to be stonewalling American Oversight’s investigation into whether President Donald Trump canceled a multibillion-dollar relocation project in order to benefit his own business interests.

In August 2018, news broke that Trump had met with administration officials about a long-planned project to relocate the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and to sell and redevelop the current property in downtown Washington, D.C. The existing FBI headquarters sits less than a block away from the Trump International Hotel, and members of Congress have questioned whether Trump canceled the redevelopment project to prevent competition with his hotel.

American Oversight launched an investigation, filing 18 Freedom of Information Act requests seeking records from the Justice Department (DOJ), FBI, General Services Administration (GSA), and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) about the cancellation of the project and the involvement of the White House or the Trump Organization. Among other things, we specifically asked for emails that include references to the president’s hotel or the Old Post Office Building, where the hotel is located. In several of those requests, we specified search terms including “Post Office,” “Trump International Hotel,” and “Headquarters.” When those agencies failed to provide records, we went to court in October 2018 to compel the release of documents.

Four months later, despite extensive negotiations with the agencies, DOJ, FBI, and OMB are refusing to search for the records we specifically requested in our FOIAs. Instead, the agencies have initiated searches for much narrower sets of records — generally omitting terms related to the Trump hotel or the Old Post Office Building — an approach that seems intentionally designed to miss records that might show influence that the president or the Trump Organization exerted over the relocation decision.

The redevelopment and potential relocation plan was a multi-year effort to ensure that our nation’s top law enforcement agency is housed in the right facility for the job. If this project were scrapped after interference by the president trying to protect his own hotel — or for any other inappropriate reasons — the taxpayers have a right to know. We’ve asked for documents that would shed light on this question, and we’re committed to getting the truth.

In joint status reports and subsequent filings with the court on February 21 and 22, American Oversight and the agencies have outlined our positions and the current status of these cases. OMB says it expects to produce records from its flawed search by April 2. We are seeking status conferences with DOJ and FBI so that we can discuss the outstanding disputes — and the need for each agency to comply with our requests — in front of a judge.

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