Jul 29, 2018

Scoop: Trump's obsession with the "terrible" FBI building

Photo: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

Trump is obsessed with the FBI building. For months now, in meetings with White House officials and Senate appropriators intended to discuss big-picture spending priorities, the president rants about the graceless J. Edgar Hoover Building in downtown Washington, D.C.

Behind the scenes: In the midst of one rant about the FBI, he lit into the building. "Even the building is terrible," he observed to an Axios source. "It's one of the brutalist-type buildings, you know, brutalist architecture. Honestly, I think it's one of the ugliest buildings in the city."

  • Another source said he was dead opposed to plans to move it out of D.C. "This is prime real estate, right on Pennsylvania Avenue," he said. "This is a great address. They need to stay there. But it needs a total revamp."
  • That source said Trump told Chief of Staff John Kelly he wants to oversee the project at an excruciating level of detail: the cost per square foot, the materials used, the renovation specs, etc. He's treating it like it's a Trump Organization construction project, the source added.

The White House response: In response to my emails about this story, a senior official said, "POTUS has interest in the issue and has met with FBI officials, but more importantly the GSA [General Services Administration] team. GSA has concerns that the building can't be rehabilitated particularly given the security requirements and has relayed that to him."

  • What's next? The FBI hasn't submitted a plan for a new building to Congress, and Congress hasn't appropriated any money for the project. The senior official added that the FBI leadership and work force would prefer to stay in D.C. and "are working with GSA for optimum design for the Bureau's needs and at lowest budget, fastest timetable, etc." 

Be smart: To risk stating the obvious, it's highly unusual for the president of the United States to micromanage a building project.

  • Responding to this story, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said: "POTUS is always interested in building because he knows it better than anyone and has been very successful in it. He's found GSA to be on it, 'very impressive' and 'knowledgeable' are the phrases he has used."

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Scoop: New White House personnel chief tells Cabinet liaisons to target Never Trumpers

McEntee, shown with White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, walks on the South Lawn of the White House Jan. 9. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Johnny McEntee called in White House liaisons from cabinet agencies for an introductory meeting Thursday, in which he asked them to identify political appointees across the U.S. government who are believed to be anti-Trump, three sources familiar with the meeting tell Axios.

Behind the scenes: McEntee, a 29-year-old former body man to Trump who was fired in 2018 by then-Chief of Staff John Kelly but recently rehired — and promoted to head the presidential personnel office — foreshadowed sweeping personnel changes across government.

How art can help us understand AI

Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

Activists and journalists have been telling us for years that we are handing too much of our human autonomy over to machines and algorithms. Now artists have a showcase in the heart of Silicon Valley to highlight concerns around facial recognition, algorithmic bias and automation.

Why it matters: Art and technology have been partners for millennia, as Steve Jobs liked to remind us. But the opening of "Uncanny Valley: Being Human in the Age of AI" tomorrow at the de Young Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park puts art in the role of technology's questioner, challenger — and sometimes prosecutor.

The Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury fight is the rematch of the century

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The weekend's biggest sporting event is Wilder-Fury II, which despite its name is not an action movie sequel starring Jean-Claude Van Damme but, rather, a boxing match starring arguably the two best heavyweights in the world.

The backdrop: In their first meeting in December 2018, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury put on a memorable show at Staples Center, with Fury surviving a brutal right hand in the 12th round to earn a split-decision draw.

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