Amazon Web Services won a major battle in the clash over the Pentagon’s massive $10 billion “war cloud” computing contract Wednesday, as a federal judge ruled its legal challenge citing interference by President Trump in the deal can go forward, opening the door to a potentially ugly fight and even a possible deposition of the former president.
The decision by a U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge is under seal, meaning the details of the ruling are still unknown. The court rejected a petition by the Defense Department and Microsoft — the company that unexpectedly won the 10-year Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) award — to toss out allegations that Mr. Trump drove the award to Microsoft because of his personal animosity toward Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos.
The court’s ruling is deeply important on two fronts. First, it paves the way for an explosive legal case in which courts will review all aspects of how the Trump administration handled JEDI, including phone records, emails, and sworn depositions by Mr. Trump, former Defense Secretary James Mattis, and other key Trump administration figures who were deeply involved in the decision-making process.
But perhaps more importantly, the ruling could spell the end of JEDI — the Pentagon’s bid to consolidate its now haphazard cloud computing services under one umbrella — in its current form.
The Pentagon has previously said that the cloud computing initiative is vital for 21st-century warfighters and that any further legal delays would force military leaders to consider abandoning the project and starting over.
It’s also not clear whether President Biden’s Defense and Justice Departments are willing to defend Mr. Trump and his associates against allegations of political interference. It may prove simpler from both a political and practical point of view for the Pentagon to scrap JEDI.
The Defense Department has steadfastly maintained that there was no interference from the White House in the October 2019 decision to go with Microsoft, despite Mr. Trump’s multiple public comments on the contract bidding process. For now, Amazon Web Services, a major profit center for the retail and services giant, is celebrating the decision.
“The record of improper influence by former President Trump is disturbing, and we are pleased the court will review the remarkable impact it had on the JEDI contract award,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “AWS continues to be the superior technical choice, the less expensive choice, and would provide the best value to the DoD and the American taxpayer.”
Microsoft has said it is fully deserving of the contract and is capable of performing all of the work required. The company has vehemently denied claims that it won the JEDI contract solely because of political interference and maintains that it is the best company for the job.
The so-called “war cloud,” a technological priority inside the Pentagon for years, is a key piece of the U.S. military’s 21st-century digital strategy. The contract will cover the storage and processing of huge amounts of classified Pentagon data, and would provide service members with newfound access to information no matter where they’re stationed.
Defense analysts have argued that the lengthy delays and numerous legal challenges have prevented the military from having all of the tools it needs to keep the country safe.
Amazon, which many private analysts predicted would win the JEDI competition, argues that its web services arm is best able to handle the Pentagon’s cloud computing needs. The company says it would have won the award were it not for Mr. Trump’s direct action.
Mr. Trump regularly insulted Mr. Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, on Twitter while president. In July 2019, Mr. Trump spoke out publicly regarding the still-pending contract and the internal Pentagon process in unusually blunt terms.
“I’m getting tremendous complaints about the contract with the Pentagon and with Amazon. They’re saying it wasn’t competitively bid,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the time. “And I will be asking [the Pentagon] to look at it very closely to see what’s going on because I have had very few things where there’s been such complaining.”
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