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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

“Swamp” Creatures Lawyer Up in Aftermath of 737 MAX Crashes

A Special Investigative Report

By Donald V. Watkins

©Copyrighted and Published on March 23, 2019

When two new $120 million Boeing 737 MAX 8 airplanes fell out of the sky in less than five months, everybody knew something was terribly wrong with these airplanes. Terrorism was immediately ruled out as the cause of these crashes.

The “Swamp” creatures in Washington, D.C, who routinely peddle influence for corporate interests in exchange for campaign cash and “dark money” contributions, knew they had a problem. Their ability to game the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) system for certifying new airplanes resulted in two tragic situations that caused massive fatalities.

In October 2018, a new Boeing 737 MAX 8 operated by Indonesia’s Lion Air crashed into the Java Sea. None of the 189 people on board survived.

On March 10, 2019, a second Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed shortly after take-off, killing all 157 people on board.  The plane’s flight data recorder showed “a clear similarity” with the Lion Air incident.

Aviation authorities around the world grounded all Boeing 737 MAX airplanes indefinitely.

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating whether criminal wrongdoing occurred with respect to the FAA’s expedited certification of the Boeing 737 MAX airplanes. The immediate focus of this investigation centers on a faulty flight control system called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (”MCAS”), which Boeing and the FAA certified as safe.

Influence Peddling in the “Swamp” Contributed to 346 Deaths

On March 19, 2019, I published an exclusive investigative article titled, “Who Pushed the FAA to Expedite Certification of Faulty 737 MAX Aircraft? The article focused on the influence peddling role U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Howard Goodloe Sutton, Jr., Boeing’s Senior Director of Political Mobilization, played in Washington’s political “Swamp” to shift responsibility from the FAA to manufacturers like Boeing for the certification of major flight safety systems.

Richard Shelby has chaired and/or served on the Senate Appropriations Committee for more than a decade. Sen. Shelby’s right-hand man on the Senate Appropriations Committee was Howard Goodloe Sutton, Jr. He served as a professional staff member for the Appropriations Committee from 2006 to 2013. Sutton previously served as a legislative assistant to Sen. Shelby and as the state director for Shelby’s Alabama offices. He is an expert in the federal budget and appropriations process. In 2013, Sutton became the Director for Legislative Affairs at Boeing’s Government Operations Office in Washington.

In 2013, another Richard Shelby protégé, Art Cameron, became Chief of Staff for Boeing’s Government Operations Office in Washington. Prior to joining Boeing, Cameron worked with Sen. Shelby as the staff director for the Senate Appropriations Committee. In 2018, Cameron became the Boeing’s vice president of federal legislative affairs in the Government Operations Office.

Sen. Shelby, Howard Goodloe Sutton, Jr., Art Cameron, Boeing, and other interested parties were extremely effective in advancing Boeing’s corporate interests at the FAA, the agency that certified the 737 MAX aircraft on March 8, 2017. Their collective influence peddling paved the way for the FAA to transfer some of its required quality control and flight safety assessments to manufacturers like Boeing.

This circumstance created a self-serving exercise for Boeing and a failure of oversight for the FAA. As a result, 346 passengers and crew members died in two recent 737 MAX airplane crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that were less than five months apart.

Lawyering Up

We have confirmed from reliable confidential sources that Boeing has retained high-powered criminal lawyers in Washington, D.C. and Chicago to represent the company and several of its senior management executives during the federal grand jury investigation. We have also learned that Boeing’s legal strategy is to shift all of the blame for its corporate actions in truncating and expediting the required safety analysis of the faulty MCAS flight control system to the FAA managers in charge of the certification process.

In Boeing’s view, these FAA managers are underpaid government employees who do not have the financial ability to hire highly qualified criminal lawyers to assist them in the responding effectively to the grand jury investigation. As such, Boeing believes these FAA managers are prime candidates to serve as “scapegoats” in this case.

Investigators are also looking at Sen. Richard Shelby, Howard Goodloe Sutton, Jr., and others as “persons of interest” in the 737 MAX airplane crashes. Shelby and Sutton were in a position to influence the FAA’s decision to permit Boeing to play such a large role in deciding whether its airplanes are safe. Both men had the political clout, the motivation to help Boeing, the intimate knowledge of the FAA’s budgetary constraints, the ability to favorably impact the FAA willingness to outsource certain certification responsibilities to manufacturers, and the “insider” connections within the federal bureaucracy to game the system for Boeing’s benefit.

Finally, we have confirmed that Sen. Shelby has lawyered up, as well. In his view, everybody at the FAA and Boeing is dispensable. The only person who is sacred in Shelby’s longtime Washington "Swamp" is himself.

PHOTO: Search and recovery workers remove debris from the crash site of a new Ethiopian Airlines 737MAX 8 passenger airplane on October 10, 2019.

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Donald V. Watkins
Donald V. Watkins
24 de mar. de 2019

As explained in a March 23, 2019 article published in Quartz, the Boeing 737 crisis goes way beyond a software glitch. "These crashes emerged from an experience we’re all familiar with: the pressure to deliver on a tight timetable, the temptation to cut corners, and the hope that in a big, complex world, one little kludge won’t mess up the whole program." Well, two deadly 737MAX crashes in five months have shocked passengers, regulators, and industry alike. They have definitely messed up the whole program for Boeing.

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