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Just how far is Trump prepared to go with his Amazon ‘obsession’?

Updated

About a year into Donald Trump’s presidency, Axios spoke to five sources close to the White House who said the Republican is eager to “go after” Amazon.com and its CEO, Jeff Bezos. Referring to Trump, one source said at the time, “He’s obsessed with Amazon. Obsessed.”

The article added, “The president would love to clip CEO Jeff Bezos’ wings. But he doesn’t have a plan to make that happen.”

It’s hard not to wonder whether that’s changed.

As we’ve discussed, Trump’s preoccupation with the online retailer has always been quite weird. It’s effectively a political bank shot of presidential contempt: the Republican hates the Washington Post’s coverage of his administration, which leads Trump to hate its owner, which then leads the president to also hate Bezos’ other businesses.

But how far is the Republican prepared to take his animosity? The question came to the fore two weeks ago, when Trump said he was looking “very seriously” at intervening in a multi-billion-dollar cloud-computing contract, hoping to derail Amazon’s bid.

Asked by reporters about the contract known as JEDI, for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, Mr. Trump said he was “getting tremendous complaints about the contract with the Pentagon and with Amazon.”

“They’re saying it wasn’t competitively bid,” he said.

Even at the time, the comments suggested that Trump has no idea what he was saying. There was a competitive bidding process, and no company had secured the contract. Military officials said at the time that a final decision was imminent, possibly coming this week.

All of which led to yesterday’s news.

Newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is reviewing a controversial multi-year cloud-computing contract, a spokesperson said.

The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure deal, which could be worth up to $10 billion for services rendered over as many as 10 years, could go to either Amazon or Microsoft. Those two companies are the top players in the market for cloud infrastructure that companies and governments can use to host applications and store data.

According to the Washington Post’s report on this, Esper’s reexamination is the result of White House instructions and “11th-hour Oval Office intervention.” There were “concerns” in the West Wing, the article added, that the lucrative contract “would go to Amazon.”

The Post went on to report:

Giving the contract to more than one company would be welcomed by Oracle and IBM, whose business is threatened by Amazon. They have unsuccessfully sued to block the award. The Pentagon has said that only Amazon and Microsoft meet the minimum requirements for JEDI.

Oracle has lobbied Trump aggressively on the matter, hoping to appeal to his animosity toward Amazon as well as former defense secretary Jim Mattis, who angered the president when he resigned last year over the administration’s foreign policy decisions. Oracle Executive Vice President Ken Glueck, who runs the company’s policy shop in Washington, said he created a colorful flow chart labeled “A Conspiracy To Create A Ten Year DoD Cloud Monopoly” that portrayed connections among Amazon executives, Mattis and officials from the Obama administration.

If there’s one thing everyone has learned, it’s how to manipulate Trump effectively.

In case this isn’t painfully obvious, this isn’t how the federal contracting process is supposed to work, at least not in this country in the 21st century.

And yet, here we are.

For the record, Esper, the newly confirmed Pentagon chief, has agreed to review the contract, but it’s entirely possible that he’ll decide that it’s in everyone’s interests that Amazon prevail in this process. It’s also possible that he’ll succumb to Trump’s pressure and deny Amazon’s bid because the president doesn’t like the Washington Post.

I guess we’ll find out fairly soon what kind of Defense secretary Esper is going to be.