Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan didn’t commit a major ethics violation, according to the Pentagon’s inspector general — meaning his chances of becoming the permanent defense chief just grew.
Before joining the Pentagon as then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s No. 2 in 2017, Shanahan spent decades at Boeing and became one of its top executives. He officially recused himself from any decisions related to the company.
But in early March, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — a nonprofit organization focused on government accountability — filed an ethics complaint with the Pentagon’s inspector general. The complaint alleged that Shanahan, in his capacity as deputy secretary of defense, repeatedly championed Boeing’s aircraft over Lockheed Martin’s in official conversations.
So on March 15, the Pentagon’s watchdog decided to investigate the matter. On Thursday, the inspector general concluded that Shanahan is innocent.
“We did not substantiate any of the allegations,” the watchdog reported. “We determined that Mr. Shanahan fully complied with his ethics agreements and his ethical obligations regarding Boeing and its competitors.”
That conclusion came after the inspector general’s team interviewed Shanahan and 33 witnesses under oath, including some “who had frequent interaction with Mr. Shanahan.”
This is undeniably good news for Shanahan, who has made no secret of his desire to become the Pentagon’s formal boss. The ethics probe and a slew of poor performances during congressional testimonies threatened to derail that ascension. But now that the specter of controversy is lifted, it may boost his chances of getting the top job.
However, Shanahan continues to find ways to slam Lockheed Martin, his former employer’s top competitor and key rival. In an interview with Fox News’s Brett Baier on April 9, Shanahan — completely unprompted — criticized Lockheed Martin’s flagship F-35 warplane.
“The work I’ve done is to drive waste out of the F-35 [fighter jet] program so we can deliver the capability our men and women deserve, and at a savings the taxpayers expect,” he said, shortly after telling Baier, “I am not biased toward Boeing. I’m biased toward performance.”
Even if that’s true, it’s still a bad look for him to openly hit Lockheed Martin while perception of his Boeing favoritism persists.