A year after he took office, the president intervened personally to kill a plan, a decade in the works, to transfer the FBI to a campus in the D.C. suburbs. He did so despite the fact that the plan made undeniable sense: The FBI’s 46-year-old J. Edgar Hoover Building, on Pennsylvania Avenue, has been crumbling for years, accommodates less than half the bureau’s local staffing needs and is vulnerable to terrorist attack.
But shifting the FBI headquarters to the suburbs would clear the way for redeveloping its current site, a prime property ripe for shops, restaurants, high-end apartments — and a luxury hotel. That luxury hotel would compete with another one a block away on Pennsylvania Avenue: the Trump International, which, in 2018, provided the president’s company with a substantial chunk of its revenue.
What’s the nation’s hotelier in chief to do? Following his personal intervention, the government announced that rather than moving the FBI, it would raze the building and rebuild on the same insecure, too-small site, which would force thousands of FBI staffers to move permanently to facilities in Idaho, Alabama and West Virginia. As for the cost, including to relocate more than 5,000 FBI headquarters personnel for years while construction was underway — well, no one could provide an estimate of that.
The Trump Organization’s plan to sell its hotel’s lease is on hold because of the pandemic, but the sale will surely be more viable, and the property more valuable, if the president is successful in eliminating a potential rival hotel across the street.
Still, GOP senators played dumb when asked why funding for a new FBI headquarters would be a priority for the White House in a bill meant for economic relief from the pandemic’s ravages. “That’s a big question,” said Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, who chairs the Appropriations Committee. “That makes no sense to me,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was more blunt; he called it a “mistake” to include the FBI building in the coronavirus stimulus measure.
In any other administration, self-dealing of this magnitude would be a scandal for the ages. In the Trump presidency, it’s just another day. No one can keep up with the gusher of malfeasance, contempt for ethics and recklessness.