Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is under investigation by the Pentagon’s inspector general over ties to his former employer, the aerospace juggernaut Boeing.
The Defense Department said Wednesday it had opened an ethics investigation into complaints that allege Shanahan regularly touted Boeing over other defense contractors, including Lockheed Martin, while serving in an official government capacity. Politico first reported about the remarks in January, which allegedly included episodes when Shanahan said Lockheed Martin’s contract over the $1 trillion F-35 fighter jet program was “fucked up.”
“He would complain about Lockheed’s timing and their inability to deliver, and from a Boeing point of view, say things like, ‘We would never do that,’” a former Trump administration official told Politico at the time.
Shanahan worked at Boeing for more than 30 years before he was brought on as the deputy defense secretary in 2017. He was named as the department’s acting chief in December after former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned in protest after Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.
The Politico report prompted the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington to file a complaint with the Pentagon’s inspector general earlier this month. The group said it worried Shanahan had violated ethics rules, saying any favoritism toward Boeing could be a use of his public office for private gain.
“Federal law prohibits Acting Secretary Shanahan from using his office for the private gain of others,” the group said. “Government resources should be used for public purposes, not to promote or denigrate any private business.”
Shanahan has denied any wrongdoing and told lawmakers last week he would support an investigation into his conduct.
“In his recent Senate Armed Services Committee testimony, Acting Secretary Shanahan stated that he supported an investigation into these allegations. We have informed him that we have opened this investigation,” a Pentagon spokesman told CNN.
The probe could impede any effort to make him the permanent defense secretary. The New York Times noted that some Pentagon officials believed Trump was prepared to nominate him for the job, but it’s unclear if he’d have enough support in the Senate to be confirmed.
The federal government is still dealing with the fallout from two airline accidents involving Boeing’s 737 Max jetliners, most recently a crash in Ethiopia that left 157 people dead. The Federal Aviation Administration is under scrutiny over the safety analysis of the planes, which reportedly had crucial flaws, according to an investigation by The Seattle Times.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao this week called on the agency to open an inquiry into the review process of the 737 Max.