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Ex-NTSB official 'uncomfortable' with Trump/Boeing relationship
01:58 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told Senate lawmakers Thursday that he has not spoken to anyone in the administration about the Boeing 737 Max 8 jet and has not been briefed on any of the problems related to the aircraft despite working for the company for 31 years prior to taking a job at the Pentagon.

His testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee comes one day after President Donald Trump announced the US decision to ground all 737 Max jets in the aftermath of Sunday’s Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash.

Specifically, Shanahan was grilled by Connecticut Democrat Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who pressed the former Boeing executive on his knowledge of issues related to the Boeing-made jet.

Blumenthal: I’d like to know whether you have spoken about the Boeing 737 Max 8 to anyone in the administration, in the Department of Transportation or in the White House?

Shanahan: Senator, I’ve not spoken to anyone regarding the 737 Max.

Blumenthal: Have you been briefed at all on any of the problems relating to it?

Shanahan: No, sir, I have not.

On Wednesday, Trump said the decision to ground the Max 8 and Max 9 was made in light of new information about last week’s crash, which killed 157 people.

But until that point, administration officials had insisted the planes were safe, bucking calls from lawmakers and airline labor unions to suspend flights until an investigation could be completed.

On Thursday, Trump called his decision to ground Boeing’s 737 Max planes a “big decision” and said Boeing has to quickly find a solution.

“They have to find out what it is. I’m not sure that they know, but I thought we had to do it. We had to take a cautionary route,” he said. “They have to figure it out fast.”

During Thursday’s hearing, Shanahan was asked if he is in favor of a probe looking into why problems with the aircraft were not known about or acted upon earlier.

“I firmly believe we should let the regulators investigate the incidents,” he responded.

The global grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max 8 airliner had drawn new attention to the close ties between the manufacturer and the Trump administration.

Trump has touted Boeing sales across the globe – including two weeks ago in Vietnam – and has cultivated close relationships with the company’s executives.

Shanahan has signed an ethics agreement which aims to ensure there are no conflicts of interest with Boeing while he is at the Pentagon.

But the acting secretary has faced accusations of being overly warm to his former employer in his Pentagon role, including in a new request filed Wednesday by a government watchdog group asking the Defense Department’s inspector general to investigate whether he violated government ethics rules.

The complaint cites news reports claiming Shanahan has promoted Boeing’s products over rival Lockheed Martin in his official tenure.

“It is extremely disturbing that acting Secretary Shanahan appears to be using his public office for Boeing’s private gain,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which filed the complaint. “Ethics rules make clear that government employees cannot abuse their offices to promote a private company, much less work on official matters involving their former employer.”

Asked Thursday if he supports that investigation, Shanahan said, “yes, I do.”

CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Michael Conte and Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.