Trump says Shanahan is out, Esper in

By Tony Bertuca  
June 18, 2019 at 1:07 PM

President Trump tweeted that acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan has decided to remove himself from the nomination process to become permanent Pentagon chief.

"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 tweeted. "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. I know Mark, and have no doubt he will do a fantastic job!"

News of Shanahan's withdrawal comes amid media reports that an FBI background check related to a 2010 domestic violence incident involving him and his ex-wife had delayed his nomination process.

"I never laid a hand on my then-wife and cooperated fully in a thorough law enforcement investigation that resulted in her being charged with assault against me -- charges which I had dropped in the interest of my family," Shanahan said in a statement provided to USA Today.

A Washington Post report provided details about a 2011 incident in which Shanahan’s then-17-year-old son assaulted his ex-wife with a baseball bat.

Shanahan subsequently released a statement this afternoon, saying was resigning to spare his family pain.

"I would welcome the opportunity to be Secretary of Defense, but not at the expense of being a good father," he said. "After having been confirmed for Deputy Secretary less than two years ago, it is unfortunate that a painful and deeply personal family situation from long ago is being dredged up and painted in an incomplete and therefore misleading way in the course of this process,” he said. “I believe my continuing in the confirmation process would force my three children to relive a traumatic chapter in our family's life and reopen wounds we have worked years to heal. Ultimately, their safety and well-being is my highest priority."

Shanahan said he would "coordinate an appropriate transition plan" at the Pentagon, and said he is proud of what DOD has accomplished in the past two years.

"With the leadership of President Trump and the bipartisan support of Congress, the department has made significant progress rebuilding and modernizing the military to compete with China and Russia," he said. "We are developing capabilities that will ensure American military leadership for decades to come in space, cyber, hypersonic missiles, and much more. We have focused the leadership team on delivering results and making real change at scale."

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said in a statement Trump needs to nominate a permanent replacement for Shanahan as soon as possible.

"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 said.

Inhofe said Trump made a good choice naming Esper as acting defense secretary.

"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," he said.

House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-TX) said in a statement the position needs to be filled in "a matter of a week, not months."

"However well-qualified Secretary Esper may be, it is critical that the president nominate, and that the Senate confirm, a permanent Secretary of Defense as quickly as possible," Thornberry said. "The uncertainty surrounding this vacant office encourages our enemies and unsettles our allies. Our country and our troops are facing an unprecedented array of threats around the world. We urgently need a Secretary of Defense that has the confidence of the President, the Congress, and the country."

Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman issued a statement saying June 23 will be Shanahan's final day in office.

"Under Executive Order 13533, Secretary of the Army Esper will become the Acting Secretary of Defense immediately thereafter," Hoffman said. "As the Acting Secretary of Defense beginning at 12:01 AM June 24, 2019, Dr. Esper will exercise all of the authorities and powers of the Secretary of Defense. Acting Secretary Shanahan and Secretary of the Army Esper are committed to an orderly transition that ensures our men and women in uniform have the leadership and resources they need to keep our nation safe."

Hoffman said acting Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist will remain in place.