After a thorough investigation by the Inspector General’s Office of the Department of Justice, the report made public on Wednesday cleared former President Donald Trump of allegations concerning the prospective relocation of the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover headquarters.
The inquiry originated from Congressional Democrats who articulated accusations without solid proof, insinuating that President Trump, during his tenure, imposed unwarranted pressure on FBI Director Christopher Wray.
It was alleged that this was in an attempt to approve a new site for the FBI headquarters to protect a potential competitor to his hotel from being built on the existing Hoover Building site.
The initially proposed relocation plan was eventually abandoned as the financial feasibility was not in favor of the move. The FBI’s own financial analysts concluded that the revenue from the potential sale of the Hoover Building to a developer would not equal the costs associated with establishing a new facility elsewhere.
The investigation’s findings highlighted in the report noted the absence of pressure exerted by Trump on Wray, contrary to the Democrats’ assertions. The decision made by Wray to recommend retaining the current site did not stem from an instruction from Trump notwithstanding what was claimed.
Wray indicated to the investigators that the former President was not a decisive factor in his recommendation, and felt no attempt from Trump to influence his decision-making process.
The lack of tangible evidence substantiating the claim that the location of the then-named Trump International Hotel or the potential impact on Trump’s financial interests influenced the decision-making process at the FBI was brought into sharp focus in the report.
Neither Wray nor his associates at the FBI appeared to have considered these aspects when looking to keep the new FBI headquarters at its present J.E.H site.
In a past allegation, Democrats, guided by the late Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, accused Trump of trying to safeguard his Trump International Hotel in D.C. This hotel was conveniently located a mere three-minute walk from the Hoover Building.
They deemed that President Trump should have unquestionably distanced himself from any discussions or correspondence concerning the FBI headquarters project. They believed this would eliminate both actual and perceived conflicts of interest.
The Democrats went further in saying that the President should not have participated in a decision that could directly affect his financial interests associated with the Trump Hotel. Despite the strong accusations, the report released by the Department of Justice Inspector General’s Office found no evidence supporting these claims.
The report also highlighted some interactions between President Trump and FBI Director Wray. It revealed that in September 2017, Trump enquired about Wray’s plans concerning the FBI headquarters. Wray, having not yet formed a decision, was encouraged by the President to collaborate with the General Services Administration (GSA) and subsequently share his thoughts.
Later in 2017, then White House Chief of Staff John Kelly conveyed President Trump’s confusion to Wray as to why the FBI would contemplate a move from the JEH site. The following month (December 2017), Wray informed the GSA of the FBI’s preference to maintain their headquarters at the present location.
A significant meeting, attended by Wray, took place on January 4, 2018. During this session, the FBI presented renovation plans for the current headquarters to the GSA. Following these discussions, the GSA recommended the demolition of the existing building and rebuilding a new facility at the same site.
On January 24, 2018, a crucial meeting ensued prior to an official meeting with President Trump. The participants, including then White House Counsel Donald McGahn, then Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, then Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, and then GSA Administrator Emily Murphy, along with Wray and Kelly, discussed the FBI headquarters matter.
The consensus reached was in favor of demolishing the existing structure and constructing a new facility onsite. Mulvaney also issued his support for a public-private partnership financing strategy during the discussion.
The discussions continued later in the Oval Office, where the participants met with President Trump. Trump was briefed by Wray and Murphy who collectively shared their belief that reconstruction at the current site was the optimal solution. This view was accepted and supported by President Trump, according to the notes in the report by the DOJ’s Inspector General Office.
Director Wray also underscored his experiences during these interactions and meetings. In his conversations with the investigators, he distinctly stated that he did not feel pressured or intimidated by President Trump at any point in the discussion.
Even though the majority of the talk was rooted in the construction plans for the new facility, he remembered impressing upon President Trump that Mulvaney’s support was necessary for the project.
However, Wray could not recall the former President’s response on the subject of project funding, which was also included in the report. Throughout these instances, the report found no evidence of undue influence or pressure from the former President on the decision-making process concerning the FBI headquarters.