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F-35's Top Officer Questioned Over Call with Trump, Boeing CEO

News that Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the F-35 Joint Program Office executive officer, spoke on the phone last month about the Lockheed Martin-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter with then-President-elect Donald Trump -- while rival Boeing Co.'s chief executive officer was listening in -- raised eyebrows Thursday.

Bloomberg first reported the story.

Bogdan portrayed the telephone call -- overheard by Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg -- as a straightforward, informative conversation that was "not inappropriate."  

The "president-elect fully identified that Mr. Muilenburg was on the other end" of the phone call, Bogdan told reporters after testifying before the House Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land forces Thursday on Capitol Hill.

"The things I talked about in front of Mr. Muilenburg were clearly publicly releasable information. I understand the rules about talking about Lockheed Martin stuff in front of Mr. Muilenburg."

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Trump "was in the learning mode. He's trying to understand the F-35 and the Super Hornet and [Air Force One]," Bogdan said.

Earlier, Subcommittee Chairman Mike Turner, a Republican from Ohio, questioned whether the conversation was a "break in the chain of command." But Turner quickly added he was glad "[Trump] picks up the phone and calls you," given Bogdan's extensive knowledge of the Joint Strike Fighter program.

"Thank you for the opportunity to address this directly," Bogdan replied, saying he had first met the president-elect in December at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida with other senior Defense Department officers to discuss the F-35 and the Air Force One replacement program.

Bogdan said Trump made it "very clear" he would be reaching out again to solicit more information on the programs.

The general said he and Trump shared two follow-up phone conversations, one on Jan. 9, the other Jan. 17. The first phone call was exclusively between "myself and president-elect Trump."

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He said the phone call with Muilenburg listening in resulted in "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 ... capabilities relative to the Super Hornet, and ... the presidential aircraft replacement program."

Bogdan said the conversation provided the basic foundation for reviewing both platforms as ordered by Defense Secretary James Mattis a few weeks later.

The Pentagon's order is still being reviewed, Bogdan said, in hopes of reducing costs and "ensuring the affordability of the F-35 now and in the future, and ... [to] ensure that the taxpayers are getting the best value of their dollar," among other tasks, such as effectively comparing the F-35C and Super Hornet aircraft.

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