FBI Director Chris Wray reportedly accused an appointee of President Biden of possibly interfering in the process of moving the bureau’s headquarters to Maryland instead of Virginia.
In an internal memo to FBI employees, Wray did not name the Biden senior political appointee at the General Services Administration other than saying she he had most recently worked for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which owns the parcel of land now slated for the FBI headquarters site in Greenbelt, Maryland, the Wall Street Journal reported.
General Services Administration confirmed Wednesday that it had selected Greenbelt, a Washington, D.C., suburb, as the home for a new FBI facility to replace the crumbling J. Edgar Hoover Building, which is blocks away from the White House. Wray said his concerns “are not with the decision itself but with the process.”
“We have concerns about fairness and transparency in the process and GSA’s failure to adhere to its own site selection plan,” Wray wrote in an email to the workforce, according to the Journal. “We identified concerns about a potential conflict of interest involving the site selection authority and whether changes that individual made in the final stage of the process adhered to the site selection criteria.” The Associated Press said it also obtained a copy of Wray’s email, in which he said Congress may review the matter.
The GSA, which manages the government’s real estate portfolio, said that Greenbelt site about 13 miles northeast of Washington was the cheapest one with the best access to public transit. But Wray asserted in his note that the choice came after a GSA executive overruled a board and picked land owned by a former employer.
Maryland and Virginia had long been vying to land the FBI, and officials in Virginia, which is home to the FBI Academy, criticized the government’s decision.
Congress last year directed the administration to consider three sites for the new headquarters: Greenbelt and Landover in Maryland or Springfield, Virginia.
A board that included representatives from the GSA and the FBI unanimously agreed on Springfield, Wray wrote. But in an “exceedingly rare” move, a senior GSA executive changed course and went with Greenbelt, the FBI director said. “The FBI observed that, at times, outside information was inserted into the process in a manner which appeared to disproportionately favor Greenbelt, and the justifications for the departures from the panel were varied and inconsistent,” Wray wrote.
A bi-partisan group of Virginia leaders, including Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, as well as Democratic Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, issued a statement Thursday saying “We are deeply disturbed to learn that a political appointee at the General Services Administration overruled the unanimous recommendation of a three-person panel compromised of career experts from the GSA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation concluding that Springfield, Virginia is the site best suited for the new FBI headquarters.”
“We have repeatedly condemned political interference in the independent, agency-run site selection process for a new FBI headquarters. Any fair weighing of the criteria points to a selection of Virginia. It is clear that this process has been irrevocably undermined and tainted, and this decision must now be reversed,” the statement said.
The land in Greenbelt is owned by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which once employed the senior GSA executive, according to Wray’s note.
“Despite our engagement with GSA over the last two months on these issues, our concerns about the process remain unresolved,” Wray wrote. “There are still a lot of open questions, and we’ve still got a long way to go.”
In response to the allegations, U.S. General Services Administrator Robin Carnahan condemned Wray’s claims as inaccurate.
“GSA and FBI teams have spent countless hours working closely together over many months, so we’re disappointed that the FBI Director is now making inaccurate claims directed at our agency, our employees, and our site selection plan and process,” Carnahan wrote. “Any suggestion that there was inappropriate interference is unfounded. The choice of Greenbelt, Maryland, is fully consistent with the decision-making process as well as all laws, regulations, and ethical considerations. We stand behind the process, the decision, and all of the public servants who carefully followed the process and made a good decision on behalf of the FBI and the public.”
“At every step, the GSA team has worked to incorporate the FBI’s feedback and appropriately address their concerns, including conducting a legal review of each concern raised,” Carnahan wrote. “In the spirit of continued full transparency, we are releasing relevant information that has been exchanged between our organizations so that the public and the FBI workforce has an opportunity to review it in full. We remain committed to delivering a new headquarters for the FBI workforce that is worthy of their important mission.”
The FBI did not immediately return a Fox News Digital request for comment.
The J. Edgar Hoover Building has been the FBI’s home for nearly 50 years. The building, named for the bureau’s first and longest-serving director, has given FBI employees easy access to Justice Department prosecutors across Pennsylvania Avenue. But the GSA started exploring new sites for the FBI in 2013 amid concerns the Hoover building failed to meet security requirements for the agency that’s grown significantly since President Gerald Ford first dedicated its headquarters, the Journal notes.
The Trump administration stopped the effort to find the FBI a new home in 2017, sparking allegations the halt had to do with an effort to prop up a nearby hotel owned by the Trump family. But an inspector general report released in October said Trump did not improperly pressure the FBI to stay at Hoover, the Journal reported.
The Journal also notes how Maryland officials vying for the FBI headquarters to come to their state emphasized “economic and racial equity and what they described as a need for the Biden administration to deliver on promises to invest in historically underfunded communities.” The Greenbelt site ultimately selected is located in majority-Black Prince George’s County.
Youngkin, Warner and Kaine had advocated for the FBI to be moved to the Springfield location, which isn’t far from a slew of FBI operations at the Quantico Marine Base and other national-security agencies. Maryland’s elected leaders said in a joint statement Wednesday that their push to bring the FBI headquarters to their state was “never about politics” and the new facility would meet a “dire, longstanding need.” In turn, Virginia’s Warner contended there was “gross political interference in an established GSA process,” according to the AP.
The Journal cited some current and former FBI employees as having argued that being closer to other national-security agencies in Northern Virginia would “help the bureau’s ability to function and make classified, face-to-face meetings more efficient.”
White House principal deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton did not comment on whether Biden had any direct involvement in the final site decision, but defended the process.
“I can tell you it was a fair and transparent process,” Dalton told reporters on Air Force One as Biden traveled to Illinois on Thursday. “The 61 acres in Greenbelt is both the lowest cost to taxpayers, most transportation options for FBI workers, and we had the most assurances about the expeditious means with which a project could get underway.”
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Wray has previously indicated he would prefer to stay in Washington, but experts say a suburban location is a better choice for the agency’s long-term security. “To say somehow this process was skewed is wrong,” Hoyer said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.