Trump Says He May Intervene in Huge Pentagon Contract Sought by Amazon

WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Thursday that he was looking “very seriously” at intervening in the hard-fought commercial battle for a $10 billion Pentagon cloud computing contract for which Amazon, a company he has frequently attacked, is seen as the leading contender.

For the president to weigh in on the award of a major government contract would be highly unusual, raising questions of improper political influence, but the stakes are high and Amazon’s competitors have been lobbying aggressively. Mr. Trump has long carried on a one-sided feud with Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, over some of the company’s business activities and also over what the president refers to as “The Amazon Washington Post,” though Mr. Bezos owns the newspaper personally, not as a corporate asset.

Asked by reporters about the contract known as JEDI, for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, Mr. Trump said he was “getting tremendous complaints about the contract with the Pentagon and with Amazon.”

“They’re saying it wasn’t competitively bid,” he said.

In fact, the contract has not yet been awarded and has been the subject of a monthslong competition involving Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle and IBM. Pentagon officials decided in April that only Amazon and Microsoft had the capacity to meet the military’s requirements, and they have said they expect to choose the winner in late August.

Mr. Trump called JEDI “a very big contract, one of the biggest ever,” and noted that he had heard “complaining from different companies like Microsoft and Oracle and IBM.”

“Great companies are complaining about it,” he said, “so we’re going to take a look at it. We’ll take a very strong look at it.” He did not repeat his longstanding criticism of Amazon or Mr. Bezos.

As part of his regular attacks on the news media, Mr. Trump has often targeted The Post by lumping it with Amazon. He has also claimed that Amazon has unfairly exploited the United States Postal Service and has not paid its fair share of taxes.

Steve Kelman, a former federal procurement official now at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said it would be improper for any president to influence the contracting process. “It’s not appropriate and it’s definitely not typical for a president to intervene on a contract,” he said. “That should be left to the Civil Service.”

Mr. Kelman noted that Mr. Trump’s company won a federal contract to renovate the building that is now the Trump International Hotel in Washington during the administration of President Barack Obama, despite Mr. Trump’s public campaign questioning whether Mr. Obama was born in the United States.

“That’s the way the system is supposed to work,” without political influence, Mr. Kelman said.

Some members of Congress have recently expressed concerns about the JEDI contracting process, notably Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, who wrote last week to Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, asking that the contract award be delayed.

Mr. Rubio wrote that JEDI “suffers from a lack of competition” and could “well result in wasted taxpayer dollars and fail to provide our warfighters with the best technology solutions.”

Mr. Trump called Mr. Rubio last Friday and discussed the matter, and the senator concluded that the president shared his concerns and might step in to postpone or cancel the award, according to a congressional staff member familiar with the exchange.

Larry Ellison, the co-founder of Oracle, gave $5.35 million to two political action committees associated with Mr. Rubio, the Florida First Project and Conservative Solutions PAC, in 2015 and 2016.

Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin and the chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, wrote to the Defense Department last month citing Oracle’s claims of conflict of interest and noting that the department inspector general was investigating the conduct of one former Pentagon employee who is now at Amazon.

“If the investigation confirms the allegations of impropriety after the contract has already been awarded, it could significantly erode public trust in the fairness of the government procurement process,” he wrote.

On Thursday, four Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee — including the ranking member, Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas — sent a letter to Mr. Trump saying that they had overseen the JEDI process and that they “believe it is essential for our national security to move forward as quickly as possible with the award and implementation of this contract.”

The contract is intended to bring the Pentagon into the modern era of cloud computing. Early in the contracting process, Defense Department officials decided to create only a single cloud contract, rather than dividing the business between two or more companies, as some contracting experts argued would be wiser.

Amazon Web Services, which virtually created the cloud computing industry and has long provided cloud services to the Central Intelligence Agency, has always been seen as the strongest competitor. Microsoft has established itself recently as No. 2 in the field.

But Oracle in particular has fought to stay in the running, alleging that the contract was unfairly structured to favor Amazon. It said there were conflicts of interest with employees who have worked at Amazon and the Pentagon, both of which denied any undue influence.

The Pentagon’s internal reviews dismissed the claims, as did the Government Accountability Office. IBM also protested the contract, but the office threw out its case, saying it was similar to Oracle’s.

Last week, Judge Eric Bruggink of the United States Court of Federal Claims, which adjudicates contract disputes, ruled against Oracle as well. He wrote that the previous findings “were not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law.”

The ruling left no obvious legal paths for Oracle to challenge the single-vendor approach before the contract is awarded.

While Amazon may be a particular target of Mr. Trump, it is also in the sights of many Democrats, including presidential candidates like Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has called for the company to be broken up. Mr. Bezos, by most accounts the world’s richest person, has rarely publicly responded to the criticism.

But in 2015, after Mr. Trump began his attacks on Amazon, Mr. Bezos joked on Twitter about sending the then-candidate into space on a rocket made by Blue Origin, a space exploration start-up he owns.

“Finally trashed by @realDonaldTrump,” Mr. Bezos wrote. “Will still reserve him a seat on the Blue Origin rocket. #sendDonaldtospace.”