GOP Lawmakers Call for Investigation Into Amazon's Alleged Bribery of Defense Official

Mike Lee, Ken Buck call for Justice Department investigation

Mike Lee
Mike Lee / Getty Images
May 4, 2021

Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) and Rep. Ken Buck (R., Colo.) on Tuesday asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate Amazon for violating federal law while competing for a Department of Defense contract.

The lawmakers in a letter said Amazon may have bribed a senior defense official in order to secure a cloud computing contract, citing an alleged payment from an Amazon consultant to a top adviser to former secretary of defense James Mattis, Sally Donnelly.

Lee and Buck, citing an April 2020 inspector general report, say Donnelly received more than $1 million in undisclosed payments from an Amazon consultant during her time at the Defense Department. While the payments were officially for the 2017 sale of her consulting company, Donnelly reported only $390,000 from that sale. Lee and Buck allege the payment came in exchange for her willingness to promote Amazon in her official capacity at the Defense Department. Donnelly had done consulting work for Amazon’s cloud computing services, Amazon Web Services (AWS). She is now a member of the isolationist Quincy Institute’s board of directors.

Amazon’s alleged misbehavior came to light in a 2018 dossier released by a private investigative firm, Rosetti Starr, which publicized the accusations. The Defense Department's inspector general found no evidence of wrongdoing by either Donnelly or Mattis, but Lee and Buck suggested that finding was inadequate.

The accusations have received attention as a growing segment of the GOP looks for new tools, including Justice Department investigations, to rein in big tech companies. Lee and Buck said Amazon’s behavior was "anticompetitive," suggesting "Amazon may have attempted to monopolize one or more markets" with the contract.

The contract in question, the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure program, or JEDI, was designed to pull all military data onto one platform. It is reportedly worth up to $10 billion and was ultimately awarded to Microsoft.

In the letter to Garland, Lee and Buck allege, "While serving as a senior DoD official and receiving undisclosed payments ... Ms. Donnelly wrote e-mail correspondence to other senior DoD officials" recommending Amazon’s services.

The lawmakers further allege that Donnelly organized dinners attended by Mattis, Jeff Bezos, and Amazon-funded consultants.

The letter also names defense official Anthony DeMartino, who worked as an Amazon consultant with Donnelly and "played an integral role in drafting directives regarding the Department’s cloud acquisition strategy." DeMartino may have participated in meetings regarding the Pentagon's cloud acquisition, despite being told to recuse himself by the Defense Department's ethics office, the letter says.

The investigation is the latest effort by lawmakers to investigate Amazon's anticompetitive behavior. The retail giant has drawn criticism for banning conservative books on its platform and for kicking a conservative social media site off of AWS.

Amazon is suing the Defense Department for awarding the contract to Microsoft, arguing that then-President Trump was biased against Amazon and Bezos.