Amazon Web Services wants to depose President Donald Trump and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper as it continues to fight the DoD’s enterprise cloud award to Microsoft, according to court filings unsealed Feb. 10.
The request comes as part of a broader court battle waged by AWS after it lost the Pentagon’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud contract to Microsoft, an award potentially worth $10 billion over 10 years. Much of AWS complaint in the Court of Federal Claims alleges that President Trump interfered with the contract and directed top DoD officials not to award the contract to AWS.
AWS’ lawyers want to ask Trump specifically about previous negative comments about Amazon and its founder Jeff Bezos, who owns the Washington Post and has been critical of Trump, in addition to previous comments about the JEDI cloud. Last year, Trump said he was going to take a “very strong look at” the contract.
The cloud provider also wants to know more about Trump’s interactions with Oracle and Microsoft, which both bid on the contract. Its lawyers also seek additional information on Trump’s conversations with former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis about the contract, his resignation and Bezos. According to a new book, Trump directed Mattis to “screw” Amazon.
The AWS team also wants additional information from the president regarding his conversations with Defense Department CIO Dana Deasy, Esper and other groups involved in the final selection.
In his confirmation hearing at the end of October, Deasy meticulously answered a question about Trump’s interference in the JEDI cloud, saying that members of the source selection team were anonymous, but didn’t deny that Trump pressured senior DoD officials. In a statement, an AWS spokesperson said that Trump has “repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to use his position ... to interfere with government functions — including federal procurements — to advance his personal agenda.”
“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,’" an AWS spokesperson said in a statement. "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.”
AWS also wants to depose Esper to learn more about his August decision to launch a review of the contact in August, which Esper said was to familiarize himself with the the contract, as well as his decision to recuse himself from the decision just says before JEDI was awarded to Microsoft, which Esper said was because his son worked for IBM, which bid for the contract but was eliminated early last year. The lawyers also want to learn more about Esper’s knowledge of Trump’s distaste for Bezos and other public statements by the president about the contract or bidders.
AWS lawyers are also seeking to depose Mattis and Deasy, as well as members of source selection group, to learn more information about their interactions with other bidders, the president or White House officials, as well as their awareness of the president’s views toward Amazon and Bezos.
Amazon pounced on recent behavior by the president, including evidence that’s come to light as part of the impeachment process, citing Trump’s decision to withhold military aid to Ukraine despite objections from his staffers, adding that “government officials confirmed they did not ‘fe[el] they could’ stop the President, and those that did try to stop him were removed from relevant positions or from government altogether." AWS also cited the case of Navy SEAL Ed Gallagher, who was acquitted of war crimes but demoted and removed from special forces, until Trump ordered the Navy to restore his rank and allow him to go back to the SEALs.
“The JEDI procurement took place in the midst of this pattern of presidential interference, which in the absence of any other facts would, at the very least, prompt questions about the regularity of the high-profile JEDI procurement,” AWS lawyers wrote.
The lawyers also wrote that they recognize that the deposition of a sitting president “presents unique circumstances” and is open to “possible alternative methods, to ensure” that testimony can be given in a time-sensitive manner. During special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference, the White House and the special counsel’s office agreed to written questions and answers from Trump. In a statement, Defense Department spokesperson Lt. Col. Robert Carver said that DoD “strongly opposes” Amazon’s request.
"Amazon Web Services’ request is unnecessary, burdensome and merely seeks to delay getting this important technology into the hands of our warfighters,” Carver said.
Late last month, AWS filed a motion to prevent the DoD and Microsoft from starting work on the JEDI cloud. Microsoft and DoD have moved to dismiss the case. Work on the unclassified portion of the cloud is scheduled to begin Feb. 11.
Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.