Questions Swirling Around Amazon Contract Complicate Acting Defense Secretary’s Future

_Patrick Shanahan Drew AngererGetty Images)
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Serious questions surrounding a high-value Pentagon contract, worth $10 billion and geared to be granted to web giant Amazon, could complicate Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan’s chances of confirmation by the U.S. Senate into a permanent position atop the Department of Defense should President Donald Trump follow through with nominating him for the post.

The contract, called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, is a lucrative deal that would bolster the company run by the world’s wealthiest man, Jeff Bezos. The sweetheart deal has come under significant scrutiny in recent weeks, as new documents and information has shed light on potential serious corruption that House Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) has said is being investigated now by the Pentagon’s Inspector General. Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, has earned President Trump’s disdain. The president has looked for ways to rein in the billionaire whose costly divorce reportedly still has not even made him drop below Microsoft founder Bill Gates as the world’s richest man.

“It’s appalling that this process has been gamed from the start to benefit Amazon,” a former Trump White House official told Breitbart News. “This is nothing more than a blatant attempt to help enrich Jeff Bezos and continue propping up the Washington Post, whose daily mission is to end the Trump presidency.”

Last week, Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson exposed that Shanahan’s predecessor, former Secretary of Defense and retired Gen. James Mattis, held a secret meeting with a top Amazon executive. It was secret because the Defense Department originally blacked out, or redacted, from the itinerary the name of the Amazon executive with whom Mattis held a dinner in London claiming national security reasons even though there was no national security reason whatsoever to withhold from the public the identity of the Amazon executive with whom Mattis dined:

The Carlson report on Mattis’s secret dinner with Amazon executive Teresa Carlson comes on the heels of a report from The Intercept, which earlier this month uncovered the fact that Amazon executives had apparently offered a company job to the Defense Department personnel involved in handling the contract.

The piece from The Intercept describes filings in an Oracle lawsuit on the contract, where Oracle–another tech company that is obviously upset that Amazon is a finalist for the $10 billion contract from the Pentagon without having to truly compete for it–uncovers documents that demonstrate a Pentagon official who was involved in the contract who got a job with Amazon in 2017.

“Since the court battle began in 2018, Oracle has aggressively lodged conflict-of-interest accusations involving a former DOD official named Deap Ubhi, who left the department in 2017 to take a job at Amazon,” The Intercept wrote, adding:

In a court motion filed on Friday, Oracle alleged that while Ubhi worked on the preliminary research for the JEDI program in the late summer and fall of 2017, he was also engaged in a secret job negotiation with Amazon for months, complete with salary discussions, offers of signing bonuses, and lucrative stock options. The motion further alleges that Ubhi did not recuse himself from the JEDI program until weeks after verbally accepting a job offer from Amazon and that he continued to receive information about Amazon’s competitors and participate in meetings about technical requirements, despite a government regulation that forbids such conflicts of interest.

Trump has not yet formally nominated Shanahan for a permanent post atop the Pentagon but has per outgoing White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in early May stated that he intends to nominate Shanahan:

But recent a report from NBC News suggests that President Trump is having second thoughts about the matter, especially as questions surrounding the JEDI contract unravel in public.

NBC News reported on June 11:

President Donald Trump appears to be having second thoughts about his choice of Patrick Shanahan as his next secretary of defense and asked several confidants in France last week about alternative candidates, according to four people familiar with the conversations.

The White House announced May 9 that Trump had decided to nominate Shanahan, who has served as acting defense secretary since January. But the White House has yet to formally submit Shanahan’s nomination to the Senate.

While in Normandy, France, last week to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Trump asked at least three people what they thought of Shanahan and if they had any suggestions for different candidates, the four people familiar with the conversations said.

They said Army Secretary Mark Esper was discussed as a possible replacement nominee should Trump decide to pull back his Shanahan announcement. Esper was among the candidates whom Trump had previously considered for the defense secretary job.

Asked by NBC News on Tuesday about Shanahan’s nomination, Trump said he “put it out officially” weeks ago and now the acting secretary “has to go through the process.”

Then, last week on Fox & Friends, President Trump was less confident when stating his position regarding Shanahan’s chances, saying, when asked if he was certain Shanahan would become Defense Secretary full-time, “We are going to see.”

“Well, I have, defense secretary. I have. It’s done. I put it out,” Trump said. “Yeah, it’s done from the standpoint of the nomination. Wait, wait, wait, Pat Shanahan was nominated two weeks ago. Yeah, no, I put it out, I put it out officially. Now he has to go through the process. He’s now going through.”

But, now, with the JEDI contract front and center in the defense community, Shanahan’s chances could be further complicated by the matter.

“Several Republicans in the House and Senate have recently raised the Amazon/JEDI issue to President Trump, with some senators even suggesting that unless Shanahan does something about it, it could lead to his confirmation being tanked,” one source close to the White House told Breitbart News.

“From the beginning, the president has been very uncomfortable and unhappy about what appears to be nothing more than a cronyist giveaway to Amazon and Bezos, and after watching last week’s segment on Tucker Carlson, that unhappiness has only risen,” another source, a GOP donor with deep ties to the White House, added when asked about it.

A coalition of top conservative organizations in late May wrote to the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Russ Vought, asking him to intervene to ensure the contract process is redone in a fair way rather than the current way, which critics say is rigged for Amazon’s–and Bezos’–benefit.

“The sole source single award procurement process for the JEDI cloud services project should be abandoned and revised to allow for multiple vendors,” the groups said in the letter, according to a report in the Hill newspaper. “We also urge the Office of Management and Budget to take steps to ensure that all future cloud services procurements by government agencies follow industry best practices by using multiple awards as the preferred solution for cloud services.”

Presidents of the following five organizations signed the letter: the American Conservative Union, the Institute for Liberty, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, Limited Government, and Citizens Against Government Waste.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has written to Shanahan asking for information and pressing about the JEDI contract and Amazon.

Grassley said in a release in April announcing the letter pushing for information from Shanahan on this:

The size and scope of this contract highlights the need for a completely aboveboard process. I understand that there’s ongoing litigation, but congressional oversight has an important role to play in making sure the Defense Department is properly using taxpayer dollars and maintaining policies to keep people from potentially gaming the system.”

While there is definitely rising concerns about Amazon and the JEDI contract from the GOP side of the aisle, Republicans are not alone in raising questions about this: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a surging Democrat candidate for president in 2020, has also raised concerns:

Warren’s latching onto to this issue comes as she has overtaken national 2020 Democrat frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, in at least one poll in Minnesota and has seen a resurgence in her campaign in recent weeks moving into prime position ahead of the first round of debates next week. If she does somehow defeat Biden, who still has big leads in most polls nationally and in most key states, except for the Minnesota poll for now–which is the only poll where any Democrat has led Biden anywhere in the country since he announced his campaign–this JEDI contract and Amazon corruption could become a major central issue in the 2020 general election for president in a Warren versus Trump battle.

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