The saga of the FBI’s decaying Washington headquarters and plans for just what the heck to do with it has been a long and weird one. The main problem is that the J. Edgar Hoover Building, built in the 1970s, has been decaying as fast as the old namesake corpse himself. It will need to be demolished.
But what happens after that is the tricky part. The most inventive plan was, for a long time, to build a new headquarters somewhere on the Beltway’s outskirts. A private developer would build the site on the FBI’s behalf; after the FBI moved in, the developer would get title to the old Hoover Building; that building would be torn down, and the developer could build something else in the prime real estate location only blocks from both the White House and Capitol Hill. That plan was scrapped last year due to its, ahem, complexity; the complexity itself was apparently a federal Rube Goldberg device for hiding some of the costs of the move, rather than the obvious thing: building the new headquarters and selling off the old one in two separate transactions. Yes, America, these things cost money.
After that plan died at the hands of the Trump administration, the new proposal was to build a smaller headquarters in D.C., moving a great deal of the current staff to offices in Alabama, Idaho, and West Virginia. Why Alabama, Idaho, and West Virginia? That is a damn fine question. Maryland and Virginia lawmakers who had been eagerly courting a new FBI headquarters are now steamed; lawmakers in the three states to which thousands of FBI officials would be trundled off are, of course, giddy.
The current plan is now to demolish the Hoover Building, doing an unspecified temporary something with all the FBI employees working there, and then build a new, smaller headquarters on the same site that would hold 8,300 workers rather than the current 11,000. The remainder would be transferred to, yes, Alabama, Idaho, and West Virginia. This plan is being widely slammed as ridiculous and a boondoggle; the notion of closing the current site for years, moving the entire bureau into temporary offices scattered around the region, then moving them back again is, critics say, pretty much the worst plan you could come up with.
Got it? Good, because we’re just getting to the biggest question in all of this: Just what role has Donald Trump, real estate developer and owner of a brand-new nearby hotel, played in all this?
It’s the biggest question of all because Donald has an enormous financial stake in the outcome—and the decisions that have come down are, coincidentally, the ones that do the most to protect his own pocketbook. The current J. Edgar Hoover Building is across the street from the new Trump International Hotel, and it’s long been assumed that one of the most desirable uses for that spot of land would be, you guessed it, another new hotel.
Donald Trump does not want that. Donald Trump, who has not divested from his private businesses like every other past modern president because he is A Goddamn Crook, does not want a new competing hotel on that land, and Donald Trump, therefore, does not want that land handed over to any developer who is not Donald Trump.
It’s not theoretical. Trump had been looking at purchasing the land himself, back before his presidential run. He’s made numerous statements about the property, and after he secured the building that is now the Trump International, the Trump Organization at one point allegedly sent someone to lobby against the private redevelopment of the FBI building. Donald’s longtime interest in preventing the property from being handed over to potential competitors has not been subtle.
After the General Services Administration head was caught apparently misleading Congress on the extent of Trump’s personal involvement with the new plan, and after an inspector general’s report confirming White House involvement, eleven top Democratic House members are now demanding a clearer explanation on how the new decision, the only one of the plans that just happens to block private development of the property, came to be.
Because, they say, they now have documents proving that Donald Trump personally ordered that outcome.
New documents obtained by the Ranking Members show that a more expensive plan to keep the existing property on Pennsylvania Avenue, demolish the existing building, and construct a new facility on the same site—and thereby prevent commercial developers from competing with the Trump Hotel directly across the street—was approved during a meeting with President Trump at the Oval Office on January 24, 2018.These new documents include emails that describe this decision as “direction from the White House,” “what POTUS directed everyone to do,” and “the project the president wants.” The new documents also show that top GSA officials promised to “hold our ground” on this proposal “per the President’s instructions.”
In short, Rep. Elijah Cummings and the other Democrats say Trump himself provided the impetus for killing the plan to redevelop the property, instead choosing the one possible option that would prevent competitors from getting hold of it, a plan that the vast majority of onlookers believe is Extremely Not Good. And it’s entirely possible, and entirely probable, that the government was ordered to approve this new plan because it is financially advantageous to President Crook.
It just never ends with these people. You could devote a whole room to file cabinets full of the various scandals, investigations, and crookery Donald and his Republican enablers have brought into government; it’s almost impossible to even keep track of it all.