A company that owns buildings with Donald Trump and the family of Jared Kushner is a finalist for a $1.7 billion contract to build the FBI’s new headquarters. Vornado Realty Trust is one of three finalists to build a replacement for the bureau’s current headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C., the massive J. Edgar Hoover Building, according to Garth Beall, manager of Renard Development. Renard is hoping the federal agency running the bidding process, the General Services Administration, will choose a Renard site in Greenbelt, Maryland, for the new headquarters. Vornado is a partial owner with the Trump Organization in two buildings, one each in New York and San Francisco. It is also a major investor in 666 Fifth Ave., the flagship skyscraper of the Kushner Cos.
Virginia Congressman Gerald Connolly said the White House ties to Vornado create a conflict of interest. Since Trump hasn’t divested from his company, “that shifts the ethical burden to his business partners,” Connolly said. “We’re in a position where once again he shrugged off his responsibilities and sloughed it off to someone else.” Connolly, who represents an area in Virginia vying for the new headquarters, called on Vornado to drop out of the bidding. The choice of Vornado as a finalist was earlier reported by ABC News.
Requests for comment from Vornado, and its partner in the FBI bid, JBG Cos., were not immediately returned. A spokesman for the General Services Administration said the agency doesn’t comment on projects in ”active procurement.” “Jared takes the ethics rules very seriously and would never compromise himself or the administration,” the White House said in a statement. There was no immediate response from the White House about the president’s potential conflicts stemming from the FBI building bid. Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser to the president, sold his personal interest in 666 Fifth Ave. earlier this year.
The Kushner Cos. declined to comment. Vornado is run by Steven Roth, who has been advising Donald Trump on his plans to revamp the nation’s infrastructure. He also is consulting with the White House Office of American Innovation, which is being led by Kushner. Steven Schooner, a professor of government procurement law at George Washington University, said the relationship between Vornado and the White House makes any government deal with the real estate company suspect.
“This would absolutely pose an apparent, and, potentially, an actual conflict of interest,” Schooner said in an email. “I cannot imagine any modern-era precedent for the president (and his advisor and son-in-law) not recognizing that this is a problem and shutting this down before it gets any worse.” Renard’s Beall indicated he isn’t as worried. He said the bidding process is unlikely to be tainted. “Typically the president doesn’t get involved in GSA solicitations,” he said. “It’s pretty easy for the president to recuse himself.” Vornado is a partial owner with the Trump Organization in 1290 Sixth Avenue in Manhattan and 555 California St. in San Francisco.
The Kushner building owned with Vornado, 666 Fifth Ave., has been at the center of a conflicts of interest debate before. A Chinese insurer considering investing in the skyscraper had to pull out of negotiations with the Kushners after news reports highlighted the insurer’s close ties to the Beijing government. The skyscraper was bought by the Kushner Cos. for record $1.8 billion before the 2008 financial crisis, and soon ran into financial trouble. Vornado came to the rescue a few years later, buying a big stake in the building at a discount.
The GSA ruled in March that the Trump Organization can keep using a government-owned building in Washington for its new hotel, the Trump International Hotel, a favorite of diplomats and lobbyists. That decision drew criticism from good-government groups and Democrats. They note the contract the president’s company signed forbids government officials from being a party to or benefiting from the building.
The GSA said Trump was in “full compliance” because profits from the hotel won’t go directly to Trump while he’s president. The agency has said the winning bidder for the FBI building will have to construct in one of three locations in the Washington, D.C., area. The bidder will also get to take over the old FBI headquarters building to convert to other uses.