Maryland Democrats Rebuke FBI Head, Dismiss Va. Concerns over Greenbelt Site

Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post
FBI headquarters in D.C. in March 2021.

Maryland Democrats sharply rebuked FBI Director Christopher A. Wray on Friday, saying the nation’s chief law enforcement officer had suggested without evidence the state unfairly won the fight for the next FBI headquarters.

“He should know the difference between evidence and innuendo. And apparently here he ignored that difference,” Rep. Glenn Ivey (D-Md.) said, following a nearly 90-minute news conference where a roster of Maryland officials celebrated the win and vowed to block any efforts to reverse the Biden administration’s decision.

At a gathering that was part victory party, part rebuttal, the delegation of federal, state and local leaders who helped wage a protracted regional fight to bring the FBI’s $3 billion headquarters to Prince George’s County, Md., batted down their Virginia counterparts’ criticisms. And they responded directly to a letter Wray sent FBI employees on Thursday raising what he suggested was a potential conflict of interest in the site-selection process.

“The FBI director’s comments were particularly astonishing,” Ivey said. “They were extra irresponsible because he’s the guy who leads law enforcement in the United States.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) noted the General Services Administration, which controls the selection process, told Wray in a Nov. 3 letter that there was no legal or appropriate basis to overturn the decision. “It is absolutely wrong of Director Chris Wray to impugn and question the character, the integrity and the independence of the site selection administrator,” Van Hollen said.

Critics of the long-awaited choice, announced this week, have focused attention on a GSA official who overruled a three-person panel that recommended Springfield, Va., to select the Greenbelt site instead.

The GSA letter, read aloud in part by Van Hollen, noted that while it is not common to overrule a panel, it has happened before, most notably in 2014 when a site selector decided to include Springfield as a finalist, along with two other sites in Maryland the panel had recommended.

The FBI declined to comment Friday. Virginians vowed to continue the fight.

Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), a leader of the commonwealth’s effort, called for an inspector general review of the decision, noting concerns that Wray’s “unprecedented communication” had raised “about how corrupt this process was.”

“This is the kind of behavior I expected from the Trump administration, but I think we all expect better from the current administration, and we will be calling for an inspector general review,” Warner told reporters Thursday afternoon. “I would hope the administration would initiate that on their own as these facts have come out.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) similarly told reporters Thursday that such an investigation “makes perfect sense.”

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), the two senators and eight of the state’s 11-member House delegation issued a letter Thursday condemning “political interference,” but not repeating Warner’s call for an inspector general review.

“It is clear that this process has been irrevocably undermined and tainted, and this decision must now be reversed,” the letter said.

The FBI headquarters project is expected to house roughly 7,500 workers and several million square feet of office but will not begin construction for several years. It is under the purview of Congress, and its fate could be somewhat altered through funding or congressional powers, though it was not immediately clear which steps, if any, Virginians intended to pursue.

Maryland leaders spent most of their news conference congratulating themselves, and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) focused solely on a positive message, declaring, “nothing given. Everything earned.”

“We have always known that we won on the merits. And actually, that’s not just true now. That was true over a decade ago when the process began,” he said. “And I say this to everybody in the FBI: We’re excited to work with you. We’re excited to work together with you. And we’re excited to work together to make sure that in this moment we’re not just going to get it right, but we’re going to make you proud as well.”

While Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) was widely praised by Moore and others as the “architect” of Maryland’s plan, Moore’s fellow Democrats praised him for putting together a strong argument for equity and helping to sell it to the Biden administration.

Hoyer recalled that someone from Virginia, whom he would not name, came up to him Thursday and told him, “You know, this was an unfair competition.”

“He said: ‘Yeah, you had Moore. We had Youngkin,'” Hoyer said, chuckling to the rousing applause.

Youngkin had been indifferent to the headquarters project, according to three people familiar with the process on the commonwealth’s end, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private discussions.

One of the two said Youngkin put in far less effort than his predecessors – one Republican, two Democrats – to try to lure the headquarters to Virginia. Two people said Youngkin was cool to the headquarters because he did not consider it a significant economic development opportunity since it involves government jobs.

Youngkin took part in a private meeting on March 9 at GSA headquarters in downtown Washington, where a delegation from Virginia was given the chance to make a pitch directly to GSA officials. But Youngkin did not take part in a news conference outside the building immediately afterward, where the rest of the state’s team – including members of Virginia’s congressional delegation, college presidents and local elected officials – made their case in public beside a placard reading, “Virginia – best home for FBI.”

Youngkin’s public calendar listed only two events that day: the 9 a.m. meeting at GSA and a 9 p.m. appearance on CNN in Washington for a nationally televised town hall meeting on education.

Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said in an email to The Post that, “the governor and his administration have been engaged in the FBI HQ recruiting process since the beginning and have made the case that Virginia is the best place for its headquarters at both public events and private meetings.”

Youngkin’s perceived apathy stands in contrast to Moore, who as newly minted governor earlier this year slapped his hand on a table during a Cabinet meeting and enthusiastically told members, “I want that building!”

Moore personally discussed the project with President Biden, on Thursday saying those conversations included talk of how Prince George’s County winning the headquarters would further the administration’s goal to invest federal resources in communities that had been overlooked.

“There was not going to be a priority higher than this, for me and our administration, than to really help make the case that the FBI building belonged in Greenbelt,” Moore said in a Thursday interview. “We know this is going to have such a lasting impact. We’re talking over 7,500 jobs. We’re talking billions of dollars of economic activity. And that is going to serve as a catalyst for the larger tech revolution that’s taking place in the state of Maryland right now.”

Other Virginia Democrats directly and indirectly laid blame for the decision on Youngkin’s lack of engagement.

“I think Governor Youngkin did enough to lose. He was so focused on criticizing law enforcement and criticizing the FBI over the handling of the Trump classified document case,” Virginia House Minority Leader Don L. Scott Jr. (D) said Thursday. “I think that made some heads turn and I think that cost us that site.”

Youngkin had issued statements when Trump was indicted by federal prosecutors calling the charges “unprecedented” and “a sad day for our country, especially in light of what clearly appears to be a two-tiered justice system where some are selectively prosecuted, and others are not.”

Scott complained at the time that Youngkin was going to jeopardize Virginia’s chances, and on Thursday he said the outcome proved he was correct:

“Because of the governor’s irresponsible behavior, now Virginia is going to lose out on potentially millions of dollars of economic activity. It’s really sad that the governor chose to attack the FBI as opposed to doing his job and looking out for the commonwealth of Virginia. He chose to protect MAGA Republicans and Trump’s agenda.”

The federal government will have to appropriate through Congress funds to complete the building and GSA will have to be involved in a “lengthy federal” procurement to hire a construction company to build the headquarters, David Iannucci, president and chief executive of the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corp., said in an interview.

Negotiations with WMATA, which owns the land, will also need to happen, Iannucci added.

GSA estimated that closing on the Greenbelt property would take nine months and estimates a gap of nearly three years between the closing date and the start of construction, according to site selection documents.