Trump’s bid for FBI building money draws bipartisan scorn

Billy House and Laura Litvan

The inclusion in the Republican coronavirus relief plan of $1.75 billion for a new FBI headquarters in Washington, a priority for President Donald Trump, drew bipartisan scorn Tuesday and is all but certain to be scuttled.

Senate GOP leaders and other lawmakers expressed surprise that the allocation ended up in the multipart stimulus package they unveiled Monday. Even some of Trump’s strongest supporters questioned why it was included in legislation that was supposed to be focused on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“That smells like a kind of strange addition,” Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said.

In this Nov. 1, 2017, file photo, traffic along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington streaks past the Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters building. Democrats are accusing President Donald Trump of self-dealing as the White House pushes Senate Republicans to include nearly $1.8 billion to rebuild the FBI headquarters in downtown Washington as part of a new coronavirus aid package.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell deflected a question about how the funding was included, but said he wants “all non-Covid provisions out” of a final bill.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who helped negotiate details of the GOP plan, didn’t respond directly when asked whether the administration would fight to keep the money in the package, saying, “I don’t see it standing in the way of a deal.”

Plans to move the FBI from its current location about four blocks from the White House to the Washington suburbs had been in the works since about 2012, but were shelved after Trump took office.

Democrats have accused Trump of trying to keep the bureau’s headquarters at its current site because it occupies a significant chunk of real estate near the Trump International Hotel, and keeping it there would prevent other commercial development in the spot, including competing hotels.

After the allocation was made public Monday evening, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi used it to criticize the Republican bill.

“They don’t have money for food stamps, but they have money for an FBI building just so that they can diminish competition for the president’s hotel,” she said at a news conference.

A General Services Administration inspector general’s report commissioned by Democrats and released in August 2018 found the president had been more involved in the issue of locating a new FBI headquarters building than administration officials were letting on in their sworn testimony to Congress.

Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, a member of the GOP leadership, said he supports funding a new FBI headquarters but told reporters he was surprised that it was in the virus-relief bill.

“I’d rather have this go through the regular appropriations process,” he said. “We were working on this long before coronavirus even existed.”