Aides to Donald Trump presented him with a document identical to one created by a top Washington lobbyist for cloud-computing giant Oracle, Kenneth Glueck, implying that competitor Amazon is only a favored contender for a major contract with the U.S. military due to a far-ranging “conspiracy” orchestrated by Jeff Bezos, CNN reported on Saturday.
According to CNN, the one-page document is the result of a squabble over the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) project, a $10 billion, 10-year Pentagon cloud computing initiative which has yet to be finalized. It suggests that Amazon is only one of two finalists in the bidding process (alongside Microsoft) due to corruption and a network of cronies within the Defense Department; it’s unclear how it made its way into the White House, though Oracle reportedly has made efforts to maintain close connections with Trump officials. CNN wrote:
The document contains a flow chart titled “A Conspiracy to Create a Ten Year DoD Cloud Monopoly,” and provides a visual representation of a narrative that Oracle has been pushing for months—that a web of individuals inside and outside the Defense Department were greasing the wheels for Amazon to win a cloud computing contract known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI). Oracle’s own bid did not make it to the final stage… Amazon declined to comment for this story.
Said chart shows a web of professional and personal connections between current and former staff of both the Pentagon and Amazon, with the version seen by Trump featuring former secretaries of defense Ash Carter “(featured alongside President Obama)“ and Jim Mattis. It does not make any direct allegations of wrongdoing, instead relying on unsubtle innuendo and implication to make its point. Glueck hangs the document in the windows of Oracle’s DC office, according to CNN, but denies any involvement in getting it to Trump.
Oracle has aggressively contested what it sees as unfair pro-Amazon bias in the JEDI contracting process in court, as well as claimed that Amazon cleared the way for its front-runner status in part by offering a Defense Department official a job while he was involved in evaluating possible JEDI vendors. Additionally, according to CNN, Oracle has sought to cast a meeting between then-Secretary of Defense Mattis and Bezos in 2017 and former work for Amazon Web Services by one of his advisers, Sally Donnelly, in a suspicious light.
As CNN noted, in both an “internal Pentagon investigation” and legal proceedings, no determination of wrongdoing in a manner similar to that implied in the document has emerged. Two sources at the Pentagon, as well as Donnelly herself, denied to CNN that she had any involvement shaping JEDI. (In a ruling unsealed on Friday, a federal judge found that the Pentagon used a “faulty legal justification” to award the contract to a single vendor, per Federal News Network, though it will be allowed to proceed unless there’s an appeal and the judge threw out most of Oracle’s claims.)
The Defense Department inspector general office did find ethical violations, but said it did not impact JEDI, CNN wrote:
Defense Department spokeswoman Elissa Smith has said that an internal investigation into conflicts of interest determined there was “no adverse impact” to the JEDI acquisition process. However, Smith said that potential (and unspecified) ethical violations uncovered by the investigation have been referred to the Pentagon’s inspector general. That office is currently reviewing those allegations.
Trump, however, truly hates Bezos—seemingly in large part because he owns the Washington Post, which has ran numerous unflattering stories about his administration—and has apparently absorbed commentary from Fox News about the deal, retweeting a segment calling it the “Bezos Bailout” on July 22. New Defense Secretary Mark Esper said this week that he had “heard from everybody about JEDI Cloud, that’s one of the things I’m going to take a hard look at,” according to CNN, and the JEDI contract is seen as one way he could curry favor with his new boss.
“Trump has inserted himself in other deals as well but this particular deal especially with Amazon and Bezos and the Washington Post… could land at the desk of Esper,” a source told the news network.
In recent weeks, what was seen as a deal in the final stages of being clinched by Amazon has suddenly become shaky. Per Bloomberg, several members of Congress, a few of which have seen allied super PACs receive funding from Oracle and Microsoft, have claimed impropriety in the process. Meanwhile, Trump has cited complaints from Oracle and Microsoft about the likelihood that Amazon would be selected.
Sour grapes about the federal government’s byzantine contracting process are not unusual, but personal intervention by the president against a perceived political opponent generally is. Several companies, however, seem to have determined that personally appealing to Trump could help stack the deck in their favor. Appealing to his well-established paranoia about sprawling conspiracies by his enemies would seem to fit the bill.
“What other reason would he have to weigh in other than he doesn’t like Jeff Bezos?” Steven Kelman, a Harvard Kennedy School professor of public management (who said he received unrelated funding from IBM, which is no longer a competitor for the contract), told Bloomberg.
“The bidding process is expected to be conducted by the contracting officer without political interference,” University of Baltimore professor of government contracting law Charles Tiefer told Bloomberg, “and especially not political interference from the highest official in the White House.”