First to have a crack at it was Robert Mueller. Next up was Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats, who took a mighty swing but also whiffed.
Could the one to finally strike a blow be … Amazon?
The filings this week in an obscure federal contracting court by our Seattle tech bad boys made some headlines, mostly because Jeff Bezos and company are brazenly seeking to depose the baddest boy of all, Donald Trump.
But “Amazon Web Services v. United States of America” seems to me to have the potential to develop into a full-blown political scandal. The motions made Monday show that our little Seattle online bookstore has decided to throw standard business and lobbying caution to the wind by joining into an all-out, and overtly political, war with the U.S. president.
At issue is a $10 billion Defense Department contract to transition the military into cloud computing. These are typically boring but important public bid fights, in which both companies and the government must follow arcane procurement rules on complex proposals that can run to tens of thousands of pages.
Long story shorter: Amazon thought it had won the big contract, but then lost it to Microsoft last fall after a seemingly abrupt turnaround. That’s where all hell breaks loose.
“This is not an ordinary bid protest,” the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington declared in a follow-up court filing on Tuesday. “Plaintiff Amazon … alleges not only that the U.S. Department of Defense inaccurately evaluated the technical aspects of its proposal for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (“JEDI”) contract—but also that DoD did so because President Donald J. Trump engaged in a ‘blatant and sustained effort to direct the outcome’ in order to ‘pursue his own personal and political ends.’ “
Sound familiar? It’s exactly what Trump was just impeached for — for tossing aside the laws and norms of government solely to benefit himself.
“Screw Amazon,” Trump reportedly told then Defense Secretary James Mattis in the summer of 2018, directing him to deny Amazon the contract — according to an account from Mattis’ former speechwriter, who wrote about it in a book. On Monday, Amazon asked to depose Mattis to see if this was true.
Trump’s animosity toward Amazon, Bezos and the Bezos-owned Washington Post is well-documented. But what was most potent about Amazon’s legal attack Monday – and why I think this might eventually hit home – is how the company cited a much larger pattern of self-dealing from Trump in making its case. One example: His administration is currently under investigation because he allegedly rigged a $400 million contract for the border wall, and also separately for blocking the move of the FBI headquarters, which is currently across the street from one of Trump’s hotels.
“This bid protest does not occur in a vacuum or on a blank slate,” Amazon summed up. “It takes place against the backdrop of President Trump’s repeated intervention in the full spectrum of governmental functions to make a point to his perceived critics or to advance some personal agenda.”
As if on cue, Trump just incredibly weighed in, by tweet, on the upcoming sentencing in the criminal trial of one of his own campaign advisers, Roger Stone. This has led to a crisis at the Department of Justice, with four U.S. attorneys either resigning or withdrawing from the case.
It’s all the same issue, Amazon is saying. It’s “Trump uber alles,” as I wrote in December, an ongoing anti-democratic scandal that will only snowball. That column argued that the Democrats had blown impeachment not by overreaching or going too big, but by making their case too small, too easy to shrug off.
I have no idea if Amazon deserves the $10 billion contract, but is it the one to finally make the bigger story stick? It’s got the money and a burr up its butt. It hired Ted Boutrous for the case, a lawyer renowned for challenging Trump. The in-your-face step of trying to depose the president, in a contracting dispute, means “Jeff Bozo,” as Trump calls him, has decided to go scorched earth.
In the end, it’s still going to be up to voters whether Trump stays or goes, as it always was. But by standing up to Trump, if nothing else Amazon seems to have finally hit on a surefire way to earn some good feelings back in its hometown.