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By John D. McKinnon
WASHINGTON -- Amazon.com Inc. said President Trump exerted "improper pressure" on the Pentagon to keep a lucrative cloud-computing deal from going to his perceived enemy, company founder Jeffrey Bezos.
In a complaint filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, Amazon said the president "launched repeated public and behind-the-scenes attacks" on the contract and the company to steer the contract away from Amazon and Mr. Bezos, according to the complaint, which was made public Monday.
Amazon was long considered the favorite to win the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, contract, which is valued at as much as $10 billion over the next decade. The company's bid was clouded by conflict-of-interest allegations, however, which are still under investigation by the Pentagon's inspector general.
While the Pentagon initially concluded that the alleged conflict didn't affect the integrity of the procurement process, it nonetheless ruled in the end that Microsoft Corp. was more qualified for the job.
In its newly public bid protest, Amazon says that Pentagon officials made numerous missteps in evaluating its application because of pressure from Mr. Trump.
The president on July 19 called for an investigation of the Pentagon contract, before the award. "I'm getting tremendous complaints about the contract with the Pentagon and Amazon," Mr. Trump told reporters at the time. "I will be asking them to look very closely to see what's going on." Mr. Trump also issued tweets in which he complained about the process.
Mr. Trump has blamed Mr. Bezos for unfavorable coverage of his administration in the Washington Post, which Mr. Bezos bought in 2013 for $250 million. The Post says its editorial decisions are independent.
In recent congressional testimony, a top Pentagon technology official, Dana Deasy, denied that Mr. Trump or the White House influenced the JEDI selection process.
But Amazon's protest argues: "Rarely, if ever, has a President engaged in such a blatant and sustained effort to direct the outcome of a government procurement -- let alone because of personal animus and political objectives."
The White House referred questions to the Pentagon, which in a statement said the "selection decision was made by an expert team of career public servants and military officers from across the Department of Defense and in accordance with DOD's normal source-selection process."
"There were no external influences on the source selection decision," the statement said. "The department is confident in the JEDI award and remains focused on getting this critical capability into the hands of our warfighters as quickly and efficiently as possible."
Microsoft, which has intervened in the Amazon lawsuit to defend the award, didn't immediately comment.
Among other evidence for Mr. Trump's alleged bias, Amazon's complaint cites a passage of a recent book by a former speechwriter for Jim Mattis, a former Trump defense secretary. Author Guy Snodgrass says in the book, "Holding the Line," that Mr. Trump directed Mr. Mattis to "screw Amazon" out of the JEDI contract by blocking its chance to bid on the JEDI deal. "Mattis demurred," he added.
Amazon also says the Defense Department took "numerous actions" during the evaluation process that disadvantaged Amazon.
For example, Amazon says that the Pentagon "at the eleventh hour" changed its interpretation of the bid criteria, rejecting Amazon's plan to use existing data centers to help fulfill the contract requirements. That -- along with other unfair actions by the Pentagon -- resulted in increases in Amazon's total evaluated price, the company said.
The complaint also raises questions about the circumstances and timing of the award. It says that Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced his recusal from the process on Oct. 22, because of his son's employment with unsuccessful bidder IBM Corp., while adding that the process would continue through normal channels. But the complaint says that the decision to award Microsoft had been made five days earlier.
On Oct. 25, the Pentagon announced the award to Microsoft.
Write to John D. McKinnon at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 09, 2019 16:05 ET (21:05 GMT)
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