Amazon filed its formal protest over Microsoft’s victory in a $10 billion Pentagon cloud computing contract, citing video evidence that the bidding process was improperly influenced by political pressure from the White House.
The protest was filed under seal Friday in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, but an exhibit lists four videos that provide a glimpse into the company’s legal strategy. They include President Donald Trump’s comments to supporters and reporters, as well as a Fox News host explicitly urging Trump to keep the Pentagon from awarding the deal to Amazon. Amazon requested the complaint be kept under seal to protect trade secrets.
JEDI, as it’s called, is a 10-year contract to build cloud infrastructure for the military. Amazon was long seen as the front-runner for the deal until Microsoft emerged as the surprise winner in October.
In one clip cited by Amazon in court documents, Trump told reporters he was hearing criticism of the procurement process for JEDI. Trump said he was “getting tremendous complaints about the contract with the Pentagon and with Amazon … they’re saying it wasn’t competitively bid.”
A ProPublica investigation in August suggested Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos were close to the JEDI project since its inception. A new book written by a former aide to Defense Secretary James Mattis alleges that Trump called Mattis in the summer of 2018 and directed him to “screw Amazon” out of the contract.
Amazon and Microsoft, two Seattle-area companies with robust cloud businesses, were the two finalists for JEDI. Amazon Web Services was long seen as the frontrunner but last month DoD selected Microsoft’s Azure for the project in what many viewed as an upset. Microsoft sought to intervene in the case in documents filed Friday, given its role in the bid.
Update, Nov. 23, 10:40 a.m. PT: A Microsoft spokesperson sent this statement to GeekWire:
“We’re ready to get to work so the men and women in uniform who serve our country can access the critical new technology they urgently require. We have confidence in the qualified staff at the Department of Defense, and we believe the facts will show they ran a detailed, thorough and fair process in determining the needs of the warfighter were best met by Microsoft.”
The president is a frequent critic of Amazon on a range of issues. Trump has taken aim at Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos because he owns The Washington Post and pushed the U.S. Postal Service to get a better deal from the company.
Amazon pointed to Trump’s past criticisms in another of the video clips submitted to the court record.
“I have respect for Jeff Bezos but he bought The Washington Post to have political influence and, I’ve got to tell you, we have a different country than we used to have,” Trump said, speaking at a campaign rally in Texas. “He owns Amazon. He wants political influence so Amazon will benefit from it.”
During that speech, Trump said he would enact policies that make it easier to sue newspapers, including The Washington Post, for running negative coverage of him.
“They’re going to have such problems,” he said. “One of the things I’m going to do, and this is only going to make it tougher for me, and I’ve never said this before, but one of the things I’m going to do if I win … is I’m going to open up our libel laws. So when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles we can sue them and win lots of money.”
An Amazon Web Services spokesperson explained the company’s position in a statement to GeekWire:
“AWS is uniquely experienced and qualified to provide the critical technology the U.S. military needs, and remains committed to supporting the DoD’s modernization efforts. We believe it’s critical for our country that the government and its elected leaders administer procurements objectively and in a manner that is free from political influence. Numerous aspects of the JEDI evaluation process contained clear deficiencies, errors, and unmistakable bias – and it’s important that these matters be examined and rectified.”
Amazon also included video of Defense Chief Dana Deasy’s Oct. 29 confirmation testimony and a clip from Fox News’ “Swamp Watch” that focuses on Amazon’s dealings with the government. During Deasy’s testimony, senators asked whether the White House had interfered with the JEDI procurement process.
In the “Swamp Watch” segment, on July 21, host Steve Hilton laid out a timeline of connections between Amazon and the Department of Defense and other federal agencies — including extensive lobbying efforts, the company’s funding of a think tank that published op-eds on the JEDI contract, and a long list of former government officials who have gone to work for the tech giant. Hilton implored the president, a frequent Fox News viewer, to intervene in the procurement process:
“Now, some are trying to position this as political interference. The New York Times dredged up a former federal procurement official who said it would be improper for any president to influence the contracting process. Yeah, right, we should leave it to the bureaucrats who are constantly corrupted by lucrative job offers and other bribes from big businesses. It’s not just appropriate but vital that the president kills this contract.”
Hilton went on to say that “giant monopolized contracts like this are bad policy.” He added, “Putting all of our defense’s cloud computing in one basket allows for far more corruption and security risks than dividing it up into multiple, smaller contracts.”
He concluded, “Mr. President, if you want to keep draining the swamp, don’t let the Bezos Bailout fill it back up.”