Pentagon IG probe: unclear if White House tried to influence major computer...

Pentagon IG probe: unclear if White House tried to influence major computer Cloud decision

Department of Defense spokesman Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Carver moderates a phone briefing with the chief of the National Guard Bureau, Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, and the adjutant general of Louisiana, Army Brig. Gen. Keith Wadell, about the COVID-19 response, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., April 8, 2020. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s inspector general “could not definitively determine” whether the White House influenced the procurement process for a major cloud computing contract because senior Defense Department officials were barred from answering questions on the subject during interviews, the IG said Wednesday.

“We could not review this matter fully because of the assertion of a ‘presidential communications privilege,’ which resulted in several DoD witnesses being instructed by the DoD Office of General Counsel not to answer our questions about potential communications between White House and DoD officials,” the 313-page IG report said.

The IG did not find evidence that the decision to award the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract to Microsoft resulted from pressure by any senior DoD leaders or was influenced by President Trump’s well-known dislike for Amazon and its owner, Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post.

The Pentagon in October awarded the $10 billion JEDI contract to Microsoft over Amazon to build the Pentagon’s cloud architecture, designed to permit nformation from all silos to be shared across DoD. That decision now is stalled because of a court challenge, with Amazon winning an early court ruling in February.

“In this report, we do not draw a conclusion regarding whether the DoD appropriately awarded the JEDI Cloud contract to Microsoft rather than Amazon Web Services,” the report states, noting the Amazon court victory. “The court concluded that Amazon is likely to demonstrate in the course of their bid protest that the DoD erred in its evaluation of Source Selection Information.”

Amazon is seeking to depose several individuals in the case, including possibly President Trump.

Among the areas probed was an incident in a book by retired Navy Cmdr. Guy Snodgrass, who was chief speechwriter for former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. That incident described how in the summer of 2018 Trump called and directed Mattis to ‘screw Amazon’ by locking them out of a chance to bid for the contract. According to the book, Mattis told his immeidate staff, including Snodgrass, “We’re not going to do that. This will be done by the book, both legally and ethically.”

Both Mattis and current Defense Secretary Mark Esper were cleared by the IG’s report.

“This report should finally close the door on the media and corporate-driven attacks on the career procurement officials who have been working tirelessly to get the much-needed JEDI cloud computing environment into the hands of our frontline warfighters while continuing to protect American taxpayers,” Lt. Col. Robert Carver, a Pentagon spokesperson, said in a statement.

The author of the report is former acting Inspector General Glenn Fine. He was replaced last week byTrump as he was about to head the panel that is to oversee the spending of trillions of taxpayer dollars for COVID-19 pandemic relief.

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