Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan is being investigated by the Pentagon’s Inspector General over allegations he has tried to boost his former employer, Boeing, while working in the Pentagon.
Shanahan worked for Boeing for 30 years before President Trump appointed him deputy secretary of defense in 2017. He took over as acting secretary when James Mattis resigned at the end of 2018.
The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington had asked for the investigation after recent reporting by Politico, and Shanahan told a Senate committee last week that he welcomed it.
The investigation comes at a bad time for Boeing. The company has seen three high-profile air crashes recently. A Boeing 767 cargo plane being operated by Amazon nose-dived into a bay near Houston in February. Meanwhie, two crashes of the company’s 737 MAX jet–one in Indonesia last October and another in Ethiopia in early March–resulted in a worldwide grounding of the jet.
Under a normal presidential administration, a story involving an acting defense secretary accused of using his position to improperly lobby the military on behalf of his former employer while trashing a competitor (Politico reported that Shanahan allegedly told Defense Department officials that Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program was “f*****d up”) would be a major scandal.
But under the Trump administration, it seems to have made barely a ripple. Google Trends shows that the public is hardly trying to find information on Shanahan. There has been little to no coverage of it on cable and network news, which seem to be dominated at the moment by President Trump’s war of words with George Conway and the ghost of John McCain.
The problem is that there have been so many cases similar to this during Trump’s two years in office. He has often appointed to high positions people who can use their access to improperly influence policy on behalf of former employers or pet projects. For example, there is Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose top aides had once worked for various for-profit colleges and, once ensconced at the Department of Education, quickly rolled back regulations on those colleges.
There has been a lot of that sort of improper influence under Donald Trump. The problem is that there has been so much of it, the public and the news media that serves it barely seem to notice.