The Air Force general managing the Pentagon’s program for F-35 fighter jets, built by Lockheed Martin, confirmed Thursday that the CEO of rival Boeing participated in a call with him and President Trump prior to the inauguration.
Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan said no decisions were made on the Jan. 17 call and said it was his understanding that Trump was trying to get more information about both the F-35 and Boeing programs, including the new Air Force One fleet and the F-18 Super Hornet.
“It’s important to understand that the discussions that we had were all pre-decisional,” Bogdan told a House Armed Services subcommittee. “There were no decisions made during those conversations, and it was my belief that President-elect Trump at the time was attempting to gain more information about the F-35 and its affordability, trying to gain more information about F-35s capabilities relative to the Super Hornet and to gain more information about the presidential aircraft replacement program."
Speaking with reporters after the hearing, Bogdan declined to say whether he thought it was appropriate for Muilenburg to be on the call. But, Bogdan added, all the information he provided in the call was "clearly" allowed to be released publicly.
Bodgan also said the call was “very, very forthright” and that Trump asked “a lot of very, very, very good” questions.
“He was in the learning mode,” Bogdan said of Trump.
In December, Trump tweeted that costs for Lockheed’s F-35 fighter jet program were “out of control.”
In tweets, Trump also pitted Lockheed against Boeing, saying that he asked Boeing to price out an F-18 that’s comparable to the F-35.
Bogdan first met with Trump on Dec. 21 at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, along with several other military officers in a meeting that was widely reported at the time. The same day, Trump also met with Boeing chief Dennis Muilenburg and Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson.
Bogdan then had two follow-up calls with Trump, Bogdan said Thursday. The first, on Jan. 9, was between him and Trump. The second was the Jan. 17 call between him, Trump and Muilenburg.
The calls informed a review since ordered by Defense Secretary James Mattis of the F-35 program to find ways to reduce costs, Bogdan said. The review will also include a comparison of the F-35C to the F-18.
“The questions that [Trump] asked and the answers that I gave were the foundation of the tasks that came out from Secretary Mattis two weeks ago, which are ongoing right now,” Bogdan said.
Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the tactical air and land forces subcommittee, said it’s important to compare the F-35 to the F-18 to understand their capabilities.
“We all know that the F-35 can do that job of the F-18; the F-18 cannot do the job of the F-35,” Turner said. “But you don’t always need an F-35 to the job. The question is to that mix and how we proceed.”
Updated 11:37 a.m.