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Watchdog Says Trump Didn’t Influence Decision on F.B.I. Headquarters

The Justice Department’s inspector general found no evidence that President Donald J. Trump had improperly pressured the F.B.I. to rebuild its headquarters on its current site, the crumbling J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, according to a report released on Tuesday.

The investigation began four years ago after some Democrats expressed concern over the bureau’s abrupt decision in late 2017 to scrap plans to build a $3 billion suburban campus for its 10,000 employees. Mr. Trump’s unusual interest in the building, and its proximity to his now defunct hotel, raised eyebrows among some lawmakers over whether he sought to prevent the land from being developed into a competing project.

But investigators determined that the decision was most likely motivated by funding and logistical issues, not by an effort by Mr. Trump to personally intervene to protect his property in downtown Washington from a possible rival.

Several F.B.I. witnesses, including the bureau’s director, Christopher A. Wray, told the inspector general that they had been given authority to determine the location of the new headquarters. They chose to rebuild at the existing location because it would allow them to concentrate their work force in a central location next to the Justice Department, and would cost less, the officials said.

“Wray told us that his decision to recommend staying in the current location was not based on anything that Trump said or wanted,” the inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, wrote.

Despite the former president’s keen interest, investigators said, F.B.I. staff members “had no knowledge of any involvement by Trump or the White House in the cancellation decision.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Wray noted that Mr. Trump had made it unmistakably clear, even before he was appointed to oversee the bureau in June 2017, that he wanted the F.B.I. to stay where it was.

An F.B.I. representative, responding to a request for comment by email, said the bureau was committed to upgrading the Hoover building, which “has long since failed to adequately support the F.B.I.’s mission, work force and facility security requirements.”

A spokesman for Mr. Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Hoover building has been a dangerous eyesore for years, a dank, brown structure encased in scaffolding and netting to keep pedestrians from being struck by the concrete breaking off its half-century-old edifice.

A decade ago, before running for president, Mr. Trump briefly considered bidding on the property should it become vacant. Eventually, he leased the former post office building up the street as the site of the Trump International Hotel, which operated during his presidency before shuttering in 2022.

In 2017, Congress set aside around $900 million for a new facility in one of three potential locations in suburban Maryland and Virginia, with the expectation that $2 billion more would be appropriated later.

But shortly after taking office, the Trump administration scuttled the plan after promised congressional funding failed to materialize, investigators wrote.

Investigators found no evidence of impropriety, citing a succession of bureaucratic decisions, spurred by money concerns.

The F.B.I. “did not have sufficient funds to proceed,” they concluded.

But the process took place at an especially precarious moment for the bureau, in the immediate aftermath of Mr. Trump’s dismissal of James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director. Mr. Comey had been leading a criminal investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s advisers colluded with the Russian government to steer the outcome of the 2016 election.

Mr. Wray told the inspector general that Mr. Trump repeatedly pressed him on the headquarters project, even raising the issue during his interview for the director’s job in May or June 2017.

“President Trump indicated to him that Trump had ‘tapped the brakes’ on the project because the plan to move the F.B.I. headquarters to the suburbs did not make sense to him,” investigators wrote in the report.

They added, “Wray also told us that he was unsure what Trump was referring to, but understood the plan was not proceeding.”

Mr. Trump continued to bring up the matter, even as Mr. Wray scrambled to stabilize the bureau. In September 2017, he called Mr. Wray and asked him what he “wanted to do” about the headquarters. When Mr. Wray replied he had not had the chance to examine the options, Mr. Trump asked him to come up with a plan, the director later told the inspector general’s office.

Soon after, John F. Kelly, then the White House chief of staff, followed up. It did not “make sense to the president why the F.B.I. would want to leave” Washington, Mr. Kelly told Mr. Wray.

By late 2017, Mr. Wray’s staff, in conjunction with the General Services Administration, devised a plan to demolish and rebuild the Hoover building in its current location, and to reassign some personnel to F.B.I. field offices around the country.

Mr. Trump backed the plan during a meeting in the Oval Office with Mr. Wray and other administration officials on Jan. 24, 2018.

“Wray told us that he did not feel pressured or bullied by Trump in the meeting,” the inspector general wrote.

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