Amazon Looks to Question Trump in Pentagon Contracting Case


SEATTLE — Amazon has asked a federal court to let it depose President Trump and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, arguing that hearing from them is essential to determining if they intervened against the internet company when the Pentagon awarded a multibillion-dollar contract to a competitor.

The request, which was unsealed on Monday, escalates a legal battle over a major cloud computing contract to modernize the Pentagon’s operations, called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure project, or JEDI. Amazon Web Services, the largest cloud provider, was widely considered the front-runner for the $10 billion contract, but in October, the Defense Department surprised analysts when it awarded the project to Microsoft, the No. 2 provider in the market.

Amazon challenged the decision in December, claiming that Mr. Trump used “improper pressure” on the Pentagon to prevent Amazon from winning the contract as part of an attempt to harm the company’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos. Mr. Trump has criticized Mr. Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, a publication that has reported aggressively on the Trump administration.

“The question is whether the president of the United States should be allowed to use the budget of the D.O.D. to pursue his own personal and political ends,” Drew Herdener, an Amazon spokesman, said in a statement.

In court filings unsealed late Monday, Microsoft opposed the depositions, arguing that Amazon “only provided the speculation of bias, with nothing approaching the ‘hard facts’ necessary” to demand them.

The Pentagon said it “strongly opposes” Amazon’s deposition request, saying it is “unnecessary, burdensome and merely seeks to delay getting this important technology into the hands of our warfighters,” according to a statement by Robert Carver, a spokesman for the Department of Defense.

Microsoft pointed to its previous statements on Amazon’s legal protest. “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,” Janelle Poole, a company spokeswoman, said in December.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure project was formally opened for bids in July 2018. The contest turned into a showdown among four companies, including Amazon, Microsoft and Oracle. Oracle previously protested Amazon’s involvement in the bid, but a federal judge rejected that claim.

In its new motion, Amazon called Mr. Trump’s animosity for Mr. Bezos “a matter of public record.” It cited Mr. Trump’s Twitter posts and other public comments.

Amazon’s legal filing documents Mr. Trump’s general animus toward Mr. Bezos and his interest in JEDI, but it does not provide direct evidence that Mr. Trump ordered Mr. Esper to award the contract to a competitor, or that Mr. Esper followed such orders.

Without the depositions, the motion said, “the court cannot objectively and fully evaluate A.W.S.’s credible and well-grounded allegations about bias and bad faith.”

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