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Investigation Finds Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan 'Did Not Promote Boeing'

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan was cleared by the Pentagon's Inspector General of allegations of ethics violations. Shanahan is seen here testifying at a House Armed Services Committee hearing last month.
Drew Angerer
Getty Images
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan was cleared by the Pentagon's Inspector General of allegations of ethics violations. Shanahan is seen here testifying at a House Armed Services Committee hearing last month.

An investigation by the Pentagon's Office of Inspector General has found that Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan did not commit ethics violations.

An inquiry into Shanahan's actions was initiated last month, prompted by allegations that Shanahan improperly promoted his former employer Boeing, disparaged its competitor Lockheed Martin, and "put his finger on the scale" to boost procurement of Boeing's F-15X fighter jets and other aircraft.

The investigation's conclusions remove what could have been a significant obstacle to President Trump potentially nominating Shanahan as secretary of defense. Shanahan has been acting defense secretary since former Pentagon chief James Mattis left the position at the end of 2018.

"We determined that Mr. Shanahan did not make the alleged comments and did not promote Boeing, or disparage its competitors," the report says. "While Mr. Shanahan did routinely refer to his prior industry experience in meetings, witnesses interpreted it, and told us, that he was doing it to describe his experience and to improve Government management of DoD programs, rather than to promote Boeing or its products. We also determined that Mr. Shanahan's comments about Boeing's competitors were directed at holding contractors accountable and saving the Government money, consistent with his duties as the Deputy Secretary of Defense, rather than to disparage particular companies and individuals, or to promote Boeing."

The allegations first appeared in Politico. In February, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) forwarded three allegations, and last month, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a formal complaint with the inspector general, asking for an investigation.

The report noted that with the exception of two generals, the allegations "did not identify specific witnesses who may have heard the comments about Boeing or its competitors." Investigators interviewed Shanahan and 33 people who often interacted with him and likely would have heard (or heard about) such remarks. The inspector general's office also reviewed more than 5,600 pages of unclassified documents and some 1,700 pages of classified documents related to the allegations.

"Secretary Shanahan has at all times complied with his ethics agreement, which screens Boeing matters to another DoD official and ensures no potential for a conflict of interest with Boeing," Shanahan's spokesperson, Lt. Col. Joseph Buccino told outlets including Politico. "Secretary Shanahan remains focused on retooling the military for great power competition, executing the National Defense Strategy, and providing the highest quality care for our servicemembers and their families."

Before joining the Pentagon, Shanahan was an executive at Boeing, where he worked for more than 30 years. Upon assuming the position of deputy defense secretary in 2017, Shanahan said he would recuse himself from any matters having to do with his former employer. The inspector general's office found that he did so.

Neither CREW nor Sen. Warren's office had comment on the outcome of the ethics investigation.

Shanahan is a leading candidate for the nomination to replace Mattis permanently. He is the longest-serving acting secretary of defense in U.S. history.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.