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Jim Mattis defends SecDef Pat Shanahan over Boeing bias allegations

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Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testified he did not observe acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, breaching ethical boundaries while he was in charge at the US Defense Department, according to a report from the Pentagon’s inspector general released on Thursday.

Shanahan was the subject of an inspector general investigation following numerous allegations that he violated ethics rules by taking “actions to promote his former employer, Boeing, and disparage its competitors.” Shanahan was cleared of any wrongdoing in that matter, according to the inspector general’s report released on Thursday.

Mattis denied hearing Shanahan, the deputy Defense Secretary at the time, make crude remarks about Boeing’s competitors or advocate for contracts for his former employer. Companies like Lockheed Martin, the contractor for the US’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, often compete for lucrative contracts that cost billions of dollars.

“We look with more than a spectator’s view at [the F-35 program], in other words we’re looking at it as an owner of the airplane, yeah maybe he said something like that but he’s doing his job as far as I’m concerned,” Mattis said, according to the inspector general’s report. “I didn’t pay him to be a shrinking violet when it came to saving the Government money.”

Mattis, who resigned in 2018, said he saw Shanahan as an “ethical standard bearer … on a whole host of issues,” and that he “always saw him as part of my solution.”

The first F-35 to arrive to the 33rd Fighter Wing on display during the aircraft’s official rollout ceremony A at Eglin Air Force Base.
Samuel King Jr./US Air Force

Shanahan was also accused of disparaging Lockheed Martin and its CEO, Marillyn Hewson. According to one claim, Shanahan “repeatedly dumped” on the F-35 and described it as “f—ed up.”

A Navy admiral who heard the comment said Shanahan criticized the cost and timeliness of the F-35 program, and not the aircraft itself.

Mattis agreed with the “justifiably critical” assessment: “Secretary Shanahan would have been derelict in his duties if he didn’t point that out bluntly and carry out his responsibilities for the tax dollars that we were spending,” Mattis said.

On allegations that Shanahan pressured US Marine Corps commandant Gen. Robert Neller to purchase Boeing F/A 18s, a previous generation of aircraft, Neller testified it never happened.

According to the allegation, Neller was said to have taken the issue to Mattis, who intervened on his behalf. Neller; however, shot down the notion: “Nobody gets [Secretary] Mattis to do anything,” Neller told investigators.

Other senior defense officials agreed that Shanahan complied with ethics agreements and walked away from conversations concerning Boeing.

When topics regarding the Boeing KC-46, a military refueling aircraft, were discussed, Shanahan interjected and said, “We have to stop the conversation,” according to Air Force chief of staff Gen. David Goldfein.

In another conversation about a Boeing program in 2017, Shanahan cut it short: “Stop. That’s a Boeing program. I can’t talk about it,” US Strategic Command’s Air Force Gen. John Hyten recalled Shanahan as saying.

“Not even conceptually about future capabilities?,” Hyten asked at the time.

“No, I can’t talk about that at all,” Shanahan replied.

Shanahan became the acting Defense Secretary in January 2019, shortly after Mattis’ resignation in late December.

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