Court documents filed late in the day Nov. 22 as part of a protest by Amazon Web Services show that Amazon appears to be making the case that President Donald Trump’s dislike for the company’s founder affected the award of the Pentagon’s controversial enterprise cloud contract.
The president has a well-documented dislike of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (who owns the Washington Post). Amazon lost the Defense Department’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract, potentially worth $10 billion over 10 years, to Microsoft, in what was largely considered a surprise.
While several documents were filed by Amazon under seal, one public document shows that Amazon filed a compact disc containing President Trump’s derogatory and threatening statements toward Bezos. The CD also contains video of DoD CIO Dana Deasy’s confirmation hearing last month, in which he was asked by a senator if Trump had influenced the contract award. Deasy didn’t directly deny it. The disc additionally contains video of a Fox News segment.
Amazon has a clear belief that the president’s statements influenced the award. Two weeks ago, Federal Times obtained a video of AW CEO Andy Jassy announcing that his company would protest the JEDI award.
“I think when you have a sitting president who’s willing to publicly show his disdain for a company and the leader of a company, it’s very difficult for government agencies, including the DoD, to make an objective decision without fear of reprisal," Jassy said in the video.
Jassy also said that AWS’ cloud capability greatly outpaces Microsoft, adding that "most of our customers will tell us that we’re about 24 months ahead of Microsoft in functionality and maturity.”
Paired with Trump’s statements and Deasy’s testimony, it appears Amazon’s legal argument is that Trump’s public statements against Amazon, as well as Deasy’s non-denial of Trump directing top DoD officials not to award the contract to Amazon, led to an unfair decision.
Here’s what’s on the disc:
Feb. 26, 2016 - Trump rally in Fort Worth, Texas.
In a winding speech at a campaign rally before the 2016, Trump directed attacks on media outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post, bashing them for coverage he deemed unfair. Trump brought those attacks around to focus on Bezos and saying that Amazon would “have problems” if he were elected.
“He bought the Washington Post to have political influence and I got to tell you, we have a different country than we used to have. He owns Amazon. He wants political influence so that Amazon will benefit from it. That’s not right,” Trump said. “And believe me, if I become president, oh, do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.”
July 18, 2019 - Oval Office remarks with Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte
During a Q&A session with the press while hosting Dutch PM Mark Rutte, the president was asked if he was going to intervene in the contract. Trump said he was getting “tremendous complaints” about the contract from “some of the greatest companies in the world.”
“I will be asking them to look at it very closely to see what’s going on because I have had very few things where there’s been such complaining,” Trump said. "Not only complaining from the media — or at least asking questions about it from the media — but complaining from different companies like Microsoft and Oracle and IBM. Great companies are complaining about it. So we’re going to take a look at it. We’ll take a very strong look at it. Thank you very much everybody.”
July, 21, 2019 - Fox News “Swamp Watch” Segment
The CD filed also contains a segment on Fox News Channel, one of the president’s favorite TV channels, in which the host, Steve Hilton, says that it is “vital that the president kills this contract” and dubbing it the “Bezos bailout.”
“Draining the swamp means stopping this contract,” Hilton urged.
Oct. 29, 2019 - Pentagon CIO Dana Deasy’s confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee
During Deasy’s hearing in late October, just days after the JEDI contract was awarded to Microsoft, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, asked Deasy to “categorically assure” the committee that the president didn’t influence the final decision. Deasy answered carefully, telling King that the team members on the source selection team were anonymous and cordoned off from any pressure. But he didn’t say that Trump or the White House hadn’t tried to direct top DoD officials to not award the contract to Amazon.
“I feel very confident that at no time were team members, that actually [made] the source selection, influenced with any external [pressures], including the White House,” Deasy said before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
And don’t forget, there is still a JEDI lawsuit in the Court of Appeals, filed by Oracle.
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.