The White House Counsel’s Office intervened to prevent General Services Administration officials from disclosing details about a meeting with President Donald Trump regarding the FBI’s years-long quest for a new building.
The General Services Administration’s inspector general’s office described the intervention in a report Monday.
Introducing its report, the GSA IG’s office wrote that “some GSA witnesses refused to answer any questions” about GSA Administrator Emily Murphy’s meeting with the President in January of this year, “and some of those said they were told or believed the information was subject to executive privilege.”
“We sought to determine whether GSA took the position that executive privilege precluded sharing information with the OIG, which is part of GSA and within the Executive Branch,” the report continued. “Ultimately, GSA’s Acting General Counsel informed us that he received direction from White House Counsel’s Office regarding the matter.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), the vice ranking member of the House Oversight Committee who requested an investigation into the FBI’s tumultuous building procurement process in February, said the report “substantiates my concerns” that Trump was improperly involved.
It started last summer, when the General Services Administration ditched its long-held plans to re-locate the FBI from downtown Washington, D.C. to one of three locations in Virginia or Maryland. People — across partisan, state, and professional lines — got pretty mad.
The Washington Post reported at the time: “The FBI is not the only loser in this outcome. It’s joined by state officials, county officials, real estate developers, architects and engineers, and of course, taxpayers.” Attention turned to the President: The GSA is the landlord of his company’s hotel in D.C., which itself is steps away from the FBI’s current home, the J. Edgar Hoover Building. In July of this year, in fact, Axios reported that Trump said the FBI “needs to stay” at its current address, which he reportedly called “prime real estate.”
The IG report found that not only was Trump involved — both according to the White House and “GSA emails and photographs” that confirmed the January meeting — but also that the GSA administrator’s testimony to Congress on the matter “was incomplete and may have left the misleading impression that she had no discussions with White House officials in the decisionmaking process about the project.” (The GSA and Murphy’s personal legal representation dispute that.)
In addition, the report found that the GSA incorrectly said the plan to “raze and rebuild” in D.C. would be cheaper than its original plan of finding space in the suburbs. In fact, the IG report said, “we found that GSA did not include all of the costs in its analysis, and that the [J. Edgar Hoover Building] demolish and rebuild plan would actually be more costly.”
Read the GSA IG’s full report here.