Sitting on a large chunk of absolutely prime real estate on Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC, just a few blocks from the White House, is the current headquarters of the FBI – the J. Edgar Hoover Building. Completed in 1975, it looks like a lot of the architecture that blighted North American cities in those days – if you hail from Toronto, take a look around at the corner of Bay and Bloor to see other prime examples, or stroll on over to the U of T campus and have a gander at the Robarts Library – though actually it’s quite fitting that an office building named in honour of a dour, humourless authoritarian like Hoover should be a brutalist lump of concrete that would have looked right at home overseeing some section of the Berlin Wall from the East German side of the barbed wire.
The thing is, the FBI’s current digs aren’t just depressingly ugly, they’re falling apart. Chunks of concrete keep dropping off the sides, which is, you know, very dangerous, so they have large stretches of the exterior swathed in netting to catch the deadly detritus before it brains some unsuspecting bureaucrat walking down the street. The building needs to be replaced in the worst way, soon.
You can see the nets over the windows on the upper tier in the image below.
The United States Government is actually quite good at this sort of thing, and the General Services Administration had worked out a deal with a developer to build a shiny new facility just out of town, in return for which the private company would get to take over that prime turf on Pennsylvania Ave., tear the existing monstrosity down (which doesn’t look like it’d be all that easy), and put up something swanky and lucrative in its place, probably something like a luxury hotel/convention centre. A straight swap, and a good deal for the government.
Enter The Donald.
See, The Donald, just prior to becoming President – no, it’s true, he actually became the President of the United States, I shit you not – was just wrapping up his redevelopment of the elegant old Post Office building into the Trump International Hotel. This is virtually across the street from the Hoover building. It cost a bundle, and other things being equal it’d probably already be a financial disaster in the manner of most Trump developments, but then The Donald became President – no, seriously, that happened for real – and this gave him one of the first of what’s turning out to be a very long string of opportunities to cash in on his role as head of the government. Corporations and foreign delegations, eager to suck up to His Nibs just up the street, naturally pour money into the coffers of the Trump International whenever they hit town, and that suits The Donald right down to the ground, and is, indeed, just as it should be. You want an audience with the Orange God King, you gotta come with some tribute, and it better not be Frankincense and Myrrh.
Well! Imagine Donald’s chagrin when he found out that his own government, the organization that ought to be running itself with the sole aim of making him more wealthy, was fixing to let somebody build another hotel right across the street from his! WTF? Didn’t they get it? Was he not making himself perfectly clear? He probably had one of his characteristic conniption fits, I can just hear him ranting. His own government! Putting up a competitive hotel! Right across the frigging street! It was not to be borne. Now sure, you might try to calm him down by reminding him that corporations and hopeful foreign supplicants are still going to be flocking to his joint, no matter what they put up in the footprint of the unlamented former Festung Hoover, but you know how The Donald is. It’s the principle of the thing.
So what was he supposed to do? Listen, you got levers, you pull ’em, believe me, and boy oh boy does being President give you levers. So he called everybody on the carpet and kiboshed the whole deal. If the FBI needs a new place to hang out its shingle, it can do that right where the old place sits. OK? That’s that. End of story, OK?
There’s an email trail on this, and even official White House photos of the relevant meetings, so it’s not as if it smells bad but we can’t prove the change in plans was to placate Donald. We can prove it. There’s really no room for argument, and so, of course, you know what comes next: it doesn’t matter. Not even just a little bit.
The Trump administration is the most corrupt in America’s history, by a country mile. Leave aside the way he got elected, and the Russians and all that; Trump is the most breathtakingly venal profiteer ever to pack his fat backside into the swivel chair behind what’s now the strangely uncluttered Resolute Desk. It’s like the Gambinos took over the White House. It’s like Gotti is in the Oval and Sammy the Bull’s office is just down the hall.
It isn’t just the hotel business, of course. The guy refused to divest any of his business interests, and has generally used his office, and the prestige that attaches to it, to rake in the swag. For example, as soon as he was sworn in he doubled the admission fee at Mar-a-Lago, to 200 grand or something like that, in effect selling access to the Presidency. Influence peddling, they used to call it. He gave his family paying jobs in the administration, where they now have a hand in policy, and you don’t have to be Dick Frickin’ Tracy to put two and two together and see how key US policy decisions towards China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and so on happen to dovetail perfectly with Trump’s business interests, or those of boy wonder Son-in-Law Jared Kushner – and you can bet we don’t know the half of it. At the same time he squeezes cash out of the government in dozens of little ways that start to add up, like when he charged the Secret Service market rent for setting up shop within Trump Tower in order to protect the First Family during the transition. Whenever he visits one of his posh golf resorts, which is pretty much all he does, that and hold rallies, he makes the Secret Service pay for their rooms, and even charges them for golf cart rentals so they can keep up with his fat keyster as he hauls it on four wheels from green to green. According to a recent report, Donald has billed the taxpayer close to $140,000 so far just for golf carts.
Pause a second and let that marinate a bit: the President personally chiselling the taxpayer to the tune of 140K for golf cart rentals. It all goes straight into his pocket.
Whatever. Shrug and move on. Nothing sticks to this guy, and I’m starting to think that nothing ever will. When the midterms are over, and the Blue Wave hasn’t happened, an emboldened Trump is going to fire Jeff Sessions and Rob Rosenstein, and try to shut down the Mueller probe, likely at just about the same time Mueller will be preparing to release his findings. I’m not sure how Trump and his minions will attempt to suppress Mueller’s report, but I’m not sure any longer that it matters. They could publish it via Trump’s twitter feed, and it could lay out in exquisite detail the incontrovertible proof that Trump solicited help from, and cooperated with, the Russians to rig the election, and then committed myriad acts amounting to an indictable obstruction of justice to cover it up, and honestly, I’m starting to think that it won’t change anything. Nothing is real anymore. He’ll just lie about it, spin a tale about his enemies in the Deep State or something like that, and skate.
I go back and forth on this, as anyone who’s read a few of my past columns could tell you. Some days I feel certain the noose is tightening, and that Trump can’t possibly skate forever, but days like today, it just seems like yes, actually, he can skate forever. From what we can already prove he’s done, both as President and as a tax-evading private citizen before that, Trump should already be banging his cup on the bars and screaming for the Warden from the bowels of some lightless federal prison. Yet he struts around to his rallies, crowing and taunting, triumphal in the wake of getting Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, as if that was an accomplishment, as if his choice of that particular candidate against the advice of Senate leadership didn’t turn what should have been a slam-dunk into a gut-wrenching near calamity, the reverberations of which have yet to be fully absorbed and understood. Whatever. He won. Nothing else matters. Trump invictus!
He was prescient, I’ll give him that. I am tired of all this winning.