FILE PHOTO – A pedestrian walks past the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) after Special Counsel Robert Mueller handed in his report to Attorney General William Barr on his investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election and any potential wrongdoing by U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – FBI Director Chris Wray on Thursday defended the Trump administration’s decision to abandon plans to relocate the bureau’s crumbling and outdated headquarters to Virginia or Maryland, saying he prefers to build a new state-of-the-art facility at its current location in downtown Washington, D.C.
“It is the FBI’s view that the best balance of equities for the men and women of the FBI is to be here downtown, ideally in our current location,” Wray said in testimony during a U.S. House of Representatives appropriations hearing.
“Building a new building in that location gives us both the ability to have a level five security facility to significantly grow the number of people we can have there but also … make sure our folks are within close proximity to the hundreds and hundreds of meetings that they have with their partners every day all within about a mile and a half of our current location.”
Democrats in the U.S. House have been probing the abrupt move by the FBI in 2017 to abandon long-standing plans to relocate its headquarters outside of the capital.
At the heart of their concerns is whether President Donald Trump may have improperly intervened in the FBI’s decision-making out of self-interest, in order to protect the nearby Trump Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue from any potential competition by developers who may want to erect a new hotel at the FBI’s current location.
Prior to taking office in January 2017, Trump supported the FBI’s relocation plans, according to Democrats involved in the probe.
Last fall, Congressional Democrats released an email which revealed that a White House-backed proposal for a new FBI building at the agency’s existing headquarters would result in a “less secure facility” and have a “higher per seat cost” than an earlier plan to move the FBI to the suburbs.
The decision to abandon the FBI’s relocation plans preceded Wray, who became director last August.
“When I came into this job, the previous project had already been canceled,” he testified. “I wasn’t involved in that part of it. I came into it with a blank slate.”
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Alistair Bell