Trump Says Shanahan Withdraws as Defense Secretary Nominee; Esper Named Acting Chief

June 18, 2019 Updated: June 18, 2019

President Donald Trump says that acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has withdrawn from consideration for the permanent role and that Secretary of the Army Mark Esper has been nominated to take on the Pentagon position.

Esper had been considered a leading contender for the job if Shanahan ultimately wasn’t confirmed.

The president’s announcement on June 18 followed a USA Today report that detailed how the FBI had been looking at an alleged “violent domestic dispute” between Shanahan and his then-wife from nine years ago, as part of a background investigation ahead of his possible confirmation.

Trump said the withdrawal stemmed from Shanahan’s wish to spend more time with his family, as he expressed confidence in Esper taking on the role.

“Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who has done a wonderful job, has decided not to go forward with his confirmation process so that he can devote more time to his family,” Trump said on Twitter.

“I thank Pat for his outstanding service and will be naming Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, to be the new Acting Secretary of Defense,” he said in a separate post. “I know Mark, and have no doubt he will do a fantastic job!”

The abrupt announcement came as the Pentagon post hadn’t been permanently filled since January.

Shanahan has denied ever laying a hand on his former wife, who is now known under the name Kimberley Jordinson; she has stood by her account of the story, the newspaper said. According to USA Today, both Shanahan and his wife said they had been punched by the other.

At the time of the report, the White House said there was no change in Shanahan’s position. Both Shanahan and Jordinson admitted that a late-night argument had ensued after they had been drinking.

Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, didn’t have prior experience in national security matters before he was picked by then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to be his deputy. Shanahan had been on the job in an acting capacity since Mattis stepped down at the end of 2018.

In May, Trump had said that he would nominate Shanahan, but the formal nomination process in the Senate was inexplicably delayed.

Pentagon officials couldn’t be immediately reached for comment about the USA Today report or Trump’s announcement.

Following Trump’s announcement, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the president made the right choice. In a statement, he thanked Shanahan for his service as both the Deputy Secretary of Defense and as acting Secretary of Defense.

“President Trump has made a good decision in having Secretary Esper serve as acting Secretary of Defense,” he said. “Secretary Esper has a long history of dedicated service to this nation, and he has shown excellent judgment in his current position, which I expect will continue as he assumes the role of acting Secretary of Defense.”

“As I’ve said before, for the sake of our national security, we need a confirmed Secretary of Defense—not just an acting—and I hope we can get to that point as quickly as possible,” he continued.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report 

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