Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee sharply questioned General Services Administration administrator Emily Murphy Wednesday about the president’s involvement in the project to keep the FBI headquarters in Washington - and across the street from the Trump International Hotel - after plans were already underway to construct a suburban campus for the bureau.
Appearing before the committee last year, Murphy suggested that the president had no role in the project, statements the GSA inspector general later said were misleading and “incomplete,” after it was revealed that Murphy attended two meetings at the White House, and one with the president, about the project.
Murphy stood by her prior testimony on Wednesday: “To my knowledge then, and now, the president had no involvement in the FBI’s location decision.”
She said the meeting with the president was about how to pay for the renovation project, and not about the decision itself.
Democrats have expressed concerns about the decision to renovate the FBI’s Washington headquarters after several years of work on the suburban relocation project. According to the inspector general, the revised plan to demolish and rebuild the Washington headquarters could be more costly than the relocation plans. The watchdog also found that the GSA misrepresented the price tag of the Pennsylvania Avenue renovation plan.
Democrats believe Trump, after becoming president, wanted to keep the headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue to prevent the commercial sale of the land, and prevent any potential competitors to his hotel in the Old Post Office building across the street.
The GSA, which has disputed the inspector general’s cost estimate, along with the FBI, have said that the FBI, under newly-installed Director Chris Wray, had made the decision to keep the FBI headquarters in downtown Washington before the White House meetings in early 2018.
Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Illinois, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee, said the committee wanted to know “what level of White House involvement there was in this decision." Democrats have pressed GSA, the FBI and Justice Department for more information about the decision-making process.
He pressed Murphy on whether she was aware of the White House ever communicating their preferences about the FBI headquarters site to Wray. Murphy declined to answer Quigley’s question, citing the president’s right to claim executive privilege over conversations with the FBI director.
Later in the hearing, Murphy reasserted her claim that no improper White House influence impacted the decision to rebuild the headquarters.
"None whatsoever," she said.
The White House did not immediately respond to request for comment.
ABC's Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.