By Helene Cooper and Thomas Gibbons-Neff

New York Times News Service

FBI will also look into 737 approval

The FBI has joined the criminal investigation into the certification of the Boeing 737 Max, lending its considerable resources to an inquiry already being conducted by U.S. Department of Transportation agents, according to people familiar with the matter. The federal grand jury investigation is looking into the process that approved the safety of the plane.

— The Seattle Times

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department’s inspector general said Wednesday that it was investigating complaints that the acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, had been promoting his former employer, Boeing Co., and disparaging its military contractor competitors.

The investigation will examine complaints filed last week by a watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Dwrena Allen, a spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office, said that investigators had informed Shanahan of the inquiry.

Shanahan told lawmakers last week that he supported an investigation.

The investigation complicates what is already an uphill battle for Shanahan’s effort to become the next permanent defense secretary. As recently as last week, Defense Department officials believed that President Donald Trump was about to formally nominate Shanahan for the job left vacant by Jim Mattis, who resigned in December.

But as Shanahan’s troubles mount, the White House does not appear to have a ready and able alternative to him.

Jim Talent, the former Missouri senator, is one name that White House officials have discussed, according to former and current administration officials.

The deadly crash of a Boeing 737 Max 8 jet in Ethiopia, along with mounting complaints that his cozy relationship with his former employers at the detriment of other military contractors, puts Shanahan’s fate in limbo.

Shanahan served as the Pentagon’s deputy secretary under Mattis, a job that required Senate confirmation. Before that, he spent 30 years in commercial aviation and business at Boeing. He had hoped to bring his reputation as a corporate problem solver — including helping introduce the 787 Dreamliner — to the Defense Department.

Several Defense Department officials predicted this week that it was unclear whether Shanahan could win Senate confirmation for the top job, given his long-standing ties with Boeing and the fallout from the crash of the Ethiopian Airlines plane.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao called Tuesday for her agency’s internal watchdog to investigate the process by which the Federal Aviation Administration in 2017 approved designs for the 737 Max.

The specific allegations that the Defense Department’s inspector general is examining revolve around complaints that Shanahan disparaged competitors of Boeing during meetings at the Pentagon with senior national security officials and lawmakers, two U.S. officials said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a member of the Armed Services Committee that would consider Shanahan’s confirmation if he is nominated, said she alerted the Pentagon’s internal watchdog after hearing that he “may have advocated on behalf of his former employer, Boeing, while serving as the acting defense secretary.”

“The American people should be able to trust that government officials are working for them — not for big defense contractors,” Warren, who is running for president, said in a statement.

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