G.O.P. Lawmakers Question Amazon’s Connections on Pentagon Contract

WASHINGTON — As the Defense Department prepares to solicit bids for cloud-computing work that might yield billions of dollars for Amazon, members of Congress are elevating new questions concerning the firm’s efforts to win a $10 billion contract in the course of the Trump administration.

Previously unreleased emails present that Pentagon officers in 2017 and 2018 lavished reward on a number of of the tech executives whose firms expressed curiosity within the unique contract, particularly Amazon, whereas issues concerning the firm’s entry seem to have been glossed over, in keeping with the emails, different paperwork and interviews.

Two Republican lawmakers who’ve pushed to rein within the dominance of Amazon and different tech firms in shopper markets are seizing on the emails as proof that Amazon unfairly used its affect in competing for taxpayer-funded contracts.

Representative Ken Buck of Colorado and Senator Mike Lee of Utah known as for Amazon to testify beneath oath about “whether it tried to improperly influence the largest federal contract in history,” the $10 billion challenge known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, that will transfer the Pentagon’s pc networks into the cloud. Amazon didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Whatever clout Amazon had within the Trump-era Pentagon had restricted impact. And the corporate additionally had a really high-level antagonist: President Donald J. Trump, who whereas in workplace repeatedly assailed Amazon’s chief government on the time, Jeff Bezos, the proprietor of The Washington Post. Amazon finally misplaced the JEDI contract, which was awarded to Microsoft in 2019, igniting questions on whether or not Mr. Trump’s hostility to Amazon performed a task within the final result.

But, in a victory for Amazon, the contract was canceled by the Pentagon this month amid a contentious authorized battle over the award amongst Amazon, Microsoft and different tech firms. The Defense Department instantly introduced that it was beginning a revised cloud program that might yield contracts for Amazon, Microsoft and presumably different corporations, setting off what is anticipated to be an intense lobbying combat.

The newly launched emails and interviews with individuals acquainted present a glimpse into the evolving relationship between the Defense Department and the massive expertise firms at a time when the Pentagon is more and more shifting its focus from planes, tanks and different hardware to software program and initiatives involving synthetic intelligence and machine studying.

They present how within the months main as much as the JEDI combat, high Pentagon officers and Silicon Valley executives engaged in an admiring courtship that led to high-level entry for among the corporations that will later specific curiosity within the contract. The tech executives used the entry to induce Jim Mattis, Mr. Trump’s first protection secretary, to undertake cloud-based expertise and, in a minimum of one case, to advertise their very own firm’s expertise.

During a visit to the West Coast in the summertime of 2017 to satisfy with executives from Apple, Amazon and Google, Mr. Mattis grew uncomfortable when he was subjected to an indication of Amazon’s cloud-computing merchandise on the firm’s Seattle headquarters throughout what he anticipated can be a extra common dialogue of cloud expertise, in keeping with paperwork and a former senior Pentagon official who’s accustomed to the assembly.

The former official mentioned the demonstration was attended by Mr. Bezos, with whom Mr. Mattis had simply met one on one, and quite a few his lieutenants, and was led by an government in control of promoting merchandise from Amazon Web Services, or AWS, to governments.

Briefing supplies ready for Mr. Mattis earlier than the assembly said that “it will not be a sales pitch,” with “not” underlined for emphasis.

But instantly after the assembly, an aide to Mr. Mattis wrote in an e mail to a different Pentagon official that the session “seemed to morph into an AWS sales pitch.” Mr. Mattis “was nice and gracious but I didn’t get a good vibe out of it,” the aide wrote, including that the one-on-one session previous the demonstration with Mr. Bezos “seemed to go very well” and that the Amazon founder and the protection secretary “did seem to click on a personal level.”

Tech executives used their entry to induce Jim Mattis, President Donald J. Trump’s first protection secretary, to undertake cloud-based expertise.Credit…Alex Wong/Getty Images

The competitors for the JEDI contract rapidly grew to become slowed down in bitter squabbling. IBM protested the request for proposal, suggesting it favored Amazon, whereas Oracle alleged that Pentagon officers had conflicts of curiosity associated to Amazon. When the contract went to Microsoft as a substitute, Amazon sued to dam it, arguing the Trump administration had interfered within the contracting course of due to Mr. Trump’s enmity towards Mr. Bezos.

An investigation by the Defense Department’s inspector common dismissed probably the most severe allegations about Amazon and Pentagon officers improperly tilting the contracting course of to the corporate.

In a report final yr, the inspector common concluded that the result of the JEDI contract was not affected by both Mr. Trump’s assaults on Amazon or the connections between the corporate and the Defense Department.

But the report omitted the expressions of concern concerning the “sales pitch” demonstration for Mr. Mattis at Amazon headquarters, in addition to language from an e mail alternate through which a Pentagon official advised two shut advisers to Mr. Mattis that the protection secretary’s chief of workers “defers” to them about whether or not to simply accept a request from Amazon for a gathering on the Pentagon between Mr. Bezos and Mr. Mattis.

One of the shut advisers, Sally Donnelly, responded that Mr. Bezos “is the genius of our age, so why not.” Ms. Donnelly had labored within the Defense Department in the course of the Obama administration earlier than beginning a consulting agency in 2012 the place her purchasers included Amazon. That assembly doesn’t seem to have taken place, and Ms. Donnelly later testified to the inspector common that she was being “flippant” and that Mr. Mattis’s chief of workers — not Ms. Donnelly — determined which conferences to take.

But lower than two days after her e mail calling Mr. Bezos a genius, Ms. Donnelly adopted up with a listing of seven causes Mr. Mattis ought to meet with him. It included that Amazon had employed “many” former U.S. authorities intelligence specialists, that its cloud safety “was so convincing” to the C.I.A. “that the agency two years ago took the surprising step of migrating the bulk of its secure work to Amazon,” and that Mr. Bezos’s possession of The Washington Post gave him “influence beyond the business world.”

The inspector common’s workplace didn’t reply questions concerning the omissions of particular traces from the emails, or whether or not these omissions left an incomplete image of the interactions between the Pentagon and Amazon.

“Our JEDI Cloud Procurement report speaks for itself — we stand by our findings and conclusions,” Dwrena Ok. Allen, a spokeswoman for the inspector common, mentioned in a press release.

Michael N. Levy, a lawyer for Ms. Donnelly, mentioned in a press release that she “always adhered to all ethical and legal obligations and acted in the best interest of the national security of the United States.”

Her efforts to dealer conferences for Mr. Mattis and different tech executives have been “part of the Department of Defense’s critical efforts to transform in the digital age,” Mr. Levy mentioned.

The emails — which date from 2017 and 2018 — have been launched by the Defense Department’s inspector common in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit introduced by a former inspector common. The occasions described in them predate the formal Pentagon request for bids on the JEDI contract.

The emails present Mr. Mattis’s aides additionally lavishing reward on the chief executives of different firms.

Ms. Donnelly known as Satya Nadella, the chief government of Microsoft, “one of the sector’s ‘thought leaders’ and one of the country’s most prominent Indian Americans,” and indicated it was necessary for Mr. Mattis to satisfy with Mr. Nadella to show impartiality.

Another aide, whose identify is redacted within the emails, wrote that Milo Medin, a Google government with whom Mr. Mattis met throughout his 2017 journey to the West Coast, was “great.”

Mr. Mattis’s assembly with Tim Cook of Apple was “also solid,” the aide wrote, noting that the 2 males “seemed to click personally, Cook said he’s eager to help however he can (and seemed to mean it).” The aide concluded that “one positive note of the trip is that everyone” on the numerous firms “seemed to convey a sincere ‘patriotic’ tune. I think that might have surprised the Boss a bit.”

A month after the journey, the Pentagon issued a memo titled “Accelerating Enterprise Cloud Adoption.”

Mr. Buck, who labored on a bipartisan package deal of payments that handed the Judiciary Committee final month meant to weaken the dominance of Big Tech, joined with Mr. Lee in sending a letter to Mr. Bezos in May suggesting that Amazon tried “to monopolize one or more markets relating to government and/or commercial cloud computing services by improperly influencing the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure procurement process.”

They known as on the Justice Department to analyze whether or not Amazon “may have violated federal conflict of interest and antitrust laws.” And they accused the Defense Department’s inspector common of glossing over improprieties associated to Amazon’s bid for the JEDI contract.