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Thursday, Mar 04, 2021

Amazon wants to question Trump over loss of $10bn 'war cloud' contract

Amazon wants Donald Trump to submit to questioning over the tech company’s losing bid for a $10bn military contract. The Pentagon awarded the cloud computing project to Microsoft in October. Amazon later sued, arguing that Trump’s interference and bias against the company harmed Amazon’s chances.
Amazon was considered an early frontrunner for a project that Pentagon officials have described as critical to advancing the US military’s technological advantage over adversaries.

The project, known as Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or Jedi, will store and process vast amounts of classified data, allowing the US military to improve communications with soldiers on the battlefield and use artificial intelligence to speed up its war planning and fighting capabilities.

The Pentagon was preparing to announce its decision between the finalists, Amazon and Microsoft, when Trump publicly waded into the fray in July. Trump said then that other companies told him the contract “wasn’t competitively bid”, and he said the administration would “take a very long look”. Oracle had also protested after it and IBM were eliminated from an earlier round of bidding.

Amazon is looking for more information about what happened before and after Trump ordered the review. Amazon’s court filing cites an alleged comment that surfaced in a recent book that said Trump in 2018 privately told the then defense secretary, Jim Mattis, to “screw Amazon” out of the contract. The George Washington University procurement law expert Steve Schooner said a deposition of Trump would be “clearly relevant to the primary allegations underlying their lawsuit”, but that did not mean it would happen.

“I can’t imagine this president sitting for that deposition,” Schooner said in an email Monday. Besides seeking Trump’s deposition, Amazon is also asking to depose Mattis, the current defense secretary, Mark Esper, and other government officials. Amazon said it wanted more information about the “unusual timing” of Esper recusing himself from the decision-making process because of his son’s work for IBM.

That came in October, long after IBM was no longer in the running for the contract and despite Esper earlier pledging to take a “hard look” at the bids after Trump ordered the review. In a filing with the US court of federal claims unsealed Monday, Amazon said Trump had a “well-documented personal animus towards” Amazon, its CEO Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post, which Bezos owns. Amazon said Trump was the only one who could testify about the “totality of his conversations and the overall message he conveyed” about the bidding process.

Trump has accused Amazon of not paying its fair share of taxes and of putting brick-and-mortar stores out of business. Trump has also gone after Bezos personally and accused the Post of being Amazon’s “chief lobbyist”. The White House and justice department declined comment Monday. The defense department said it “strongly opposes” Amazon’s request to depose senior.

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