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Pentagon’s inspector general finds no evidence of undue influence in $10 billion cloud computing contract

At issue is whether President Trump or his staff sought to influence the Pentagon’s award of its largest-ever cloud computing contract to build the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure.
At issue is whether President Trump or his staff sought to influence the Pentagon’s award of its largest-ever cloud computing contract to build the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
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The Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General issued a report Wednesday stating it found no evidence of undue influence or pressure on Defense Department personnel who handled a long-disputed cloud computing contract potentially worth $10 billion, despite White House efforts to prevent senior department officials from answering investigators’ questions.

At issue is whether President Trump or his staff sought to influence the Pentagon’s award of its largest-ever cloud computing contract to build the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI).

JEDI was meant to give the U.S. military a powerful, centralized computing system run by a commercial tech company so it could improve deployed troops’ access to intelligence and speed up the Pentagon’s adoption of artificial intelligence. The contract is worth up to $10 billion over 10 years.

Tech giant Amazon had been expected to win the bid, but the Pentagon in a surprise move in October awarded the contract to Microsoft. Trump has not made a secret of his distaste for Amazon, whose founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.

“The evidence we received showed that the [Department of Defense] personnel who evaluated the contract proposals and awarded Microsoft the JEDI Cloud contract were not pressured regarding their decision on the award of the contract by any DoD leaders more senior to them, who may have communicated with the White House,” the report said.

Defense Department officials said they were vindicated by the report.

“The Inspector’s General final report on the JEDI Cloud procurement confirms that the Department of Defense conducted the JEDI Cloud procurement process fairly and in accordance with law,” Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Carver, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement. Carver added that the report should put an end to what he called “media and corporate driven attacks” on Defense Department staff who handled the JEDI procurement.

Document: Inspector General Report on the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) Cloud Procurement

Good-government advocates said the White House’s decision to invoke executive privilege to prevent senior officials from speaking to investigators could suggest wrongdoing on the part of the president, even though the inspector general found no evidence of a successful intervention.

“Essentially what we learned from the IG report is that while there was no successful effort to influence the award, it appears that they tried given the fact that they invoked the privilege,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight. “And that’s not okay. There’s no place for the president’s personal vendettas in a contracting decision.”

The report suggests that investigators were exasperated by the White House’s repeated efforts to prevent senior officials from answering their questions. The investigators made clear that their inability to ask certain questions prevented them from fully exploring the president’s involvement.

“We could not definitively determine the full extent or nature of interactions that administration officials had, or may have had, with senior DOD officials regarding the procurement,” the inspector general wrote in the report.

According to the report, the investigators wanted to interview senior Pentagon officials, including the defense secretary and deputy defense secretary, but the department’s Office of General Counsel “advised us that they would not answer questions related to any communications with President Trump, members of the President’s staff, or other White House officials.”

After Trump cites Amazon concerns, Pentagon reexamines $10 billion JEDI contract process

The Pentagon’s lawyers, the report said, told the investigators that the White House did not authorize the secretary or his deputy to disclose information that would be covered by “presidential communications privilege.”

The investigative team, led by Glenn Fine when he was the acting inspector general, informed the lawyers that the release of any information “potentially protected” by the privilege “would not waive” that privilege, according to the report.

“The DOD OIG is part of the executive branch and therefore distinct from other entities outside the executive branch that may seek” such information, the report said. Further, the team said, it “routinely” receives classified and privileged information from Pentagon components and is able to safeguard it.

Fine undertook the investigation in June, seeking to learn whether current or former Pentagon officials had any conflicts of interest related to their involvement in the acquisition process.

That section of the investigation found that two former defense officials who worked on the JEDI contract violated conflict of interest rules. One of them, a former Pentagon official who worked for Amazon before and after contributing to JEDI procurement work for the Pentagon, violated ethics rules by lying to both Amazon and the Defense Department about the terms of his departure. The report also concluded that a high-level official named Stacey Cummings violated ethics rules by participating in JEDI procurement matters without disclosing that she held Microsoft stock.

The report concluded that neither individual wielded enough power to corrupt the procurement process itself. Five other individuals, including former defense secretary Jim Mattis, were cleared of wrongdoing.

Trump abruptly removed Fine last week as the Pentagon’s acting inspector general. It is unclear whether the dismissal was related to the JEDI investigation. When he lost his acting position, Fine was no longer eligible to run the federal panel Congress created in March to oversee the administration’s management of a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package. He remains the department’s deputy inspector general.

Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.