Judge denies motion to dismiss Amazon's complaint about Trump influence in JEDI cloud case

By Justin Doubleday / April 28, 2021 at 6:00 PM

(Editor's Note: This has been updated with a statement from Microsoft.)

A federal judge has denied the government's motion to dismiss Amazon's allegation that former President Trump poisoned the competition for the Pentagon's major cloud contract, opening the door to the potential depositions of Trump and former high-ranking administration officials.

In a sealed decision posted today, the judge presiding over Amazon Web Services' protest in the Court of Federal Claims denied the government's motion to dismiss the allegations about Trump's alleged improper influence and directed the parties to agree to a path forward on the case by May 28.

AWS contends the Defense Department made multiple errors in its decision to award the potential 10-year, $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract to Microsoft in 2019. The company alleges Trump exerted "improper pressure" to prevent DOD from awarding the contract to AWS in a quest to harm his "perceived political enemy," Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, according to the complaint.

In a statement released today, AWS applauded the court's 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 spokesman said. "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 said the new ruling "changes little" and noted DOD had reaffirmed its decision to award the contract to the company after a review last year.

"We’ve continued for more than a year to do the internal work necessary to move forward on JEDI quickly, and we continue to work with DOD, as we have for more than 40 years, on mission critical initiatives like supporting its rapid shift to remote work and the Army’s" Integrated Visual Augmentation System, Frank Shaw, corporate vice president for Microsoft communications, said in a statement.

In January, shortly after President Biden took office, DOD told Congress it may abandon the JEDI contract outright if the court allowed Amazon's complaint about President Trump to move forward.

In an information paper, DOD said the case is likely to drag on and feature requests for depositions from former White House and DOD officials. AWS' lawyers previously sought to depose Trump as well as former defense secretaries Jim Mattis and Mark Esper, among other officials.

"These motions will be complex and elongate the timeline significantly," the January document said. "The prospect of such a lengthy litigation process might bring the future of the JEDI Cloud procurement into question."

DOD declined to comment on the new ruling.

If the case moves forward, AWS is likely to probe communications between White House officials and the Pentagon over the JEDI contract.

A previous investigation conducted by the DOD inspector general's office found the department followed the law in awarding the JEDI contract to Microsoft, but the investigation was stunted by the White House's refusal to allow its officials to be interviewed under the assertion of "presidential communications privilege."

AWS is also likely to inquire into Esper's decision to delay the JEDI award and review the program in summer 2019 shortly after taking over as defense secretary. Some lawmakers expressed concern at the time he was bending to political pressure from Trump, who said he would "look into" the JEDI cloud contract after receiving complaints from companies like Microsoft and Oracle America.