Mega-millionaire La Jollan Linden Blue, co-owner of General Atomics, has long been a loyal Republican donor, kicking in hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years to support party politicos from would-be San Diego GOP mayor Carl DeMaio all the way up to United States presidential hopefuls.
Along the way he's also favored more than a few Democrats with a hand in doling out federal money, including Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and his home district San Diego congressman Scott Peters.
In 2012 election cycle, Feinstein got $54,750 from sources tied to General Atomics; Peters received a total of $18,200 during the 2016 election cycle, making him sixth among the firm's most financially-favored candidates. Republican congressman Duncan Hunter was third with $30,500.
All that campaign cash has generated formidable goodwill in Congress and elsewhere in the federal government for General Atomics, the Torrey Pines-based military contracting juggernaut that makes everything from the Predator and MQ Reaper drones to nuclear fuel and atomic power plant parts. The company has long been a target of critics, few if any from the Republican and Democratic establishments, for the products it makes and how it makes them.
Ever since the beginnings of the Obama administration, anti-war groups have targeted Blue, his brother Neal, and their Poway drone plant for weekly protests against the Predator, used by the Central Intelligence Agency in war zones across the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Afghanistan.
Government audits have called out the company's bad welds at a nerve gas destruction plant in Kentucky, and faulty detection devices being made for a commercial nuclear power plant in Tennessee, among other transgressions.
Last year, federal campaign disclosure records show, General Atomics and its employees were as busy as ever distributing political largesse, with Linden Blue favoring Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida who was one of Trump's opponents in last year's bitter GOP presidential primary. Blue came up with $2900 for Rubio's presidential campaign, with nothing for Trump. Linden's brother Neal gave $6000 to Rubio's senate reelection committee.
Meanwhile, General Atomics employees delivered a total of $11,684 for poll-favored Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, and just $4,376 for Trump's White House bid, according to online data from non-profit Open Secrets.
Now as president, Trump is taking aim at one of the San Diego company's most controversial projects, the so-called Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System that is supposed to replace traditional cable-operated catapults on the next generation of U.S. aircraft carriers.
"You know the catapult is quite important," the president is quoted as saying in a newly released interview for Time as he described a conversation he had during a tour of the soon-to-be-commissioned USS Gerald R. Ford in Newport News, Virginia.
"So, I said what is this?
"'Sir, this is our digital catapult system.' He said, 'well, we’re going to this because we wanted to keep up with modern [technology].'
"I said you don’t use steam anymore for catapult?
"I said, 'Ah, how is it working?'
"'Sir, not good. Not good. Doesn’t have the power.'
Proclaimed the president of the General Atomics-made system, "It sounded bad to me. Digital. They have digital. What is digital? And it’s very complicated, you have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out. And I said–and now they want to buy more aircraft carriers. I said what system are you going to be — 'Sir, we’re staying with digital.' I said no you’re not. You going to goddamned steam, the digital costs hundreds of millions of dollars more money and it’s no good."
Rising costs, delays, and under-performance are issues that have long haunted the Ford-class carrier project, with critics including GOP senator John McCain of Arizona, a frequent Trump critic, though until the president jumped into the fray, there had been no popular attention devoted to the role of General Atomics.
In addition to the Ford's high-tech launch system, General Atomics makes another controversial hardware component of the ship, the Advanced Arresting Gear project to stop planes on landing.
"Ten years after the program entered the engineering and manufacturing development phase, the Navy has not been able to prove the capability or safety of the system to the level that would permit actual testing of the system on an aircraft carrier because of hardware failures and software challenges," said a July 5 audit last year from the Inspector General's office of the Department of Defense.
"This occurred because the Navy pursued a technological solution for its Ford-class carriers that was not sufficiently mature for the planned use, resulting in hardware failures to mechanical and electrical components and software modifications to accommodate those failures."
With expenses soaring out of control, the report advised the Navy to "perform cost-benefit analyses to determine whether the Advanced Arresting Gear is an affordable solution for Navy aircraft carriers before deciding to go forward with the system on future aircraft carriers."