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Amazon seeks to depose Trump, Esper in JEDI bid protest

By AARON GREGG AND JAY GREENE | The Washington Post | Published: February 10, 2020

Amazon Web Services is seeking to depose President Donald Trump and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in a high-stakes bid protest over the Pentagon’s $10 billion JEDI cloud computing contract, a company spokesman said Monday.

The motion filed Monday in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims significantly raises the stakes in a bitter procurement dispute over a long-awaited defense contract to create JEDI, a powerful, centralized computing system run by a commercial technology company.

The contract was awarded to Microsoft in late October after Esper announced he would “reexamine” the Pentagon’s broader approach to JEDI. Soon before Esper’s review, the president said in televised remarks he had received “tremendous complaints” from Amazon’s competitors, citing Microsoft, Oracle and IBM.

Amazon alleges the surprise award to Microsoft was tainted by “repeated public and behind-the-scenes attacks” from Trump.

“President Trump has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to use his position as President and Commander in Chief to interfere with government functions — including federal procurements — to advance his personal agenda,” an AWS spokesman said in a statement Monday.

“The preservation of public confidence in the nation’s procurement process requires discovery and supplementation of the administrative record, particularly in light of President Trump’s order to ‘screw Amazon.’ The question is whether the President of the United States should be allowed to use the budget of the DoD to pursue his own personal and political ends.”

(Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Amazon repeatedly has sought to implicate Trump after it lost the JEDI contract to Microsoft last October. At the time, the e-commerce giant, which also pioneered the business of cloud computing, suggested Trump influenced the outcome because “a detailed assessment purely on the comparative offerings clearly led to a different conclusion.” A month later, Amazon cited comments by Trump at a rally and to journalists as it formally challenged to the Pentagon’s decision.

Notably, Amazon isn’t citing specific emails or conversations including Trump that it believes might have played a role in the decision. Part of its argument is that its experience, technology and track record in handling government data should have led the Pentagon to selecting AWS over Microsoft’s Azure services.

Amazon dominated the business of providing on-demand infrastructure computing services for rent with a 48% market share in 2018, according to market research firm Gartner. Microsoft, which entered the business after Amazon, holds a 15.5% share of the market.

Part of Amazon’s newly unsealed filing includes allegations that the Pentagon has not been responsive to requests for information about its decision to award the contract to Microsoft. Amazon notes there were no substantive responses to any of the 265 questions it raised during the debriefing process after the contract was awarded.

There’s little doubt of Trump’s animus toward Bezos. At a February 2016 campaign rally in Fort Worth, Texas, then-candidate Trump lashed out at Bezos’ ownership of The Post.

“I have respect for Jeff Bezos, but he bought The Washington Post to have political influence … he owns Amazon … he wants political influence so that Amazon will benefit from it,” then-presidential candidate Trump said at the campaign rally. “That’s not right. And believe me, if I become president, oh, do they have problems. They are going to have such problems.”

Trump has also frequently criticized Bezos’ ownership of The Post, pushing, for example, the U.S. Postal Service to increase rates charged to Amazon and other firms to ship packages, The Post reported last year. The Post’s leaders have said that Bezos, who bought The Post in 2013, plays no role in coverage decisions at the newspaper.

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