GSA must do ‘more comprehensive search’ for FBI HQ records under FOIA lawsuit

The General Services Administration must conduct “a more comprehensive”  search of records it has on the FBI headquarters in Washington,  a District Court judge ruled Monday, after a watchdog group filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

More specifically, D.C. District Court Judge Christopher Cooper ordered GSA to broaden its search for documents beyond the agency’s Office of the Chief Information Officer and conduct a search of nonelectronic records.

The FOIA request, first filed in July 2017, stems from the Trump administration’s decision last year to scrap the FBI’s plans to move to a consolidated campus in suburban Virginia or Maryland.

“Among other concerns, CREW suspects that President [Donald] Trump put the kibosh on the swap-relocation plan because he feared that commercial development at the Hoover Building site might compete with the neighboring Trump International Hotel,” Cooper wrote in his opinion Monday.

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GSA originally planned to award appropriated funds and the FBI’s downtown D.C. real estate to the contractor selected to build a new suburban headquarters in suburban Virginia or Maryland. Instead, GSA and the FBI now expect to demolish the J. Edgar Hoover building and build a new facility in its place.

The judge’s order also requires GSA to search for the keywords “Hoover building” and “JEH” as part of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s (CREW) original FOIA request.

In May, another District Court judge ordered GSA to widen its search for documents related to a FOIA request on the Trump Hotel across the street from the current FBI headquarters building.

House Democrats expect to further investigate the FBI headquarters decision and GSA’s Trump Hotel lease once they gain the majority in January.

“We’re happy with the court’s ruling because it confirmed our initial concerns with the GSA’s response to our FOIA request,” CREW spokesman Aaron Rodriguez said Wednesday. “We still hope to learn more about why years of planning to move the FBI headquarters was suddenly scrapped without much explanation and whether or not President Trump was involved in the decision.”

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