Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg

Trump’s Ex-Campaign Manager Said to Aid Lockheed in F-35 Dispute

  • Corey Lewandowski said to advise defense contractor on talks
  • President has sought cost reductions for the fighter jet

Lockheed Martin Corp. turned to Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and his lobbying firm to help them navigate a dispute with the new president over the cost of its F-35 fighter plane, according to four people familiar with the matter.

Trump criticized the company for “out-of-control” costs for the stealth fighter in a series of tweets in December, startling top executives at the firm. The company’s shares fell, and an initial meeting on Dec. 21 between Trump and Lockheed’s chief executive officer, Marillyn Hewson, to discuss the matter did not go well, the people said.

Hewson left without publicly promising any cost concessions. By comparison, the CEO of competitor Boeing Co., Dennis Muilenburg, announced that his company would bring down the cost of a new version of Air Force One after a meeting with Trump on the same day. The then-president-elect had said on Twitter that $4 billion was too much; the Air Force has budgeted about $3.2 billion for two of the new presidential aircraft.

Trump tweeted on Dec. 22 that he had asked Muilenburg to price out a new version of Boeing’s F/A-18 fighter that could potentially replace the F-35.

Persuasive Voice

Corey Lewandowski. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Corey Lewandowski.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Lockheed engaged Lewandowski and his firm, Avenue Strategies, after Hewson’s first meeting with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, the people said. Lewandowski was Trump’s campaign manager through the Republican primaries last year before being replaced in June as the candidate sought to convince voters and donors that he could overcome poor polling and fundraising to win the election.

A Lockheed spokesman, Dan Nelson, declined to comment when asked if the company had engaged Lewandowski or his firm in any capacity to help with the F-35 dispute.

Lewandowski and Avenue Strategies declined to comment.

The F-35 is the most expensive weapons system in U.S. history, at a projected cost of $379 billion for about 2,400 of the planes. It has long been criticized by Congress and budget watchdogs for delays and overruns, though by the end of President Barack Obama’s administration defense officials said the program’s cost’s had been brought under control.

Lewandowski was a divisive figure on the trail, sparring with reporters and fellow Trump operatives, but even after leaving the campaign he was a loyal surrogate for the candidate on television. Lewandowski opened his lobbying firm in late December with a partner, Barry Bennett, the former campaign manager for Republican Ben Carson.

Lewandowski and his firm helped Lockheed and Hewson devise a new, more conciliatory strategy for their discussions with Trump, one person familiar with matter said.

Hewson traveled to Trump Tower on Jan. 13 for a second meeting with the incoming president, one that evidently went better.

1,800 Jobs

“I certainly share his views that we need to get the best capability to our men and women in uniform and we need to get it at the lowest possible price,” she told reporters afterward. She also promised to add about 1,800 jobs at a Lockheed factory in Fort Worth, Texas, where the F-35 is assembled.

Trump has frequently complimented CEOs who promise to increase hiring.

During his first week as president, Trump met with a group of CEOs advising him that includes Hewson. Earlier this week, Trump told reporters that Lockheed had agreed to shave $600 million in costs for the plane -- less than a quarter of a percent of the total. He even praised Hewson.

“When you think about $600 million, it was announced by Marillyn, who’s very talented, the head of Lockheed Martin,”’ Trump said. “I got involved in that about a month ago. There was no movement and I was able to get $600 million approximately off those planes.”

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