Trump Says He Did Not Ask Shanahan to Withdraw From Secretary of Defense Contention

By Patrick Goodenough | June 18, 2019 | 9:04pm EDT
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan sits alongside President Trump during a cabinet meeting at the White House on January 2. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

( – President Trump said Tuesday he had not asked acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to stand down but that it was the nominee’s decision.

Trump has nominated Secretary of the Army Mark Esper to replace Shanahan, who withdrew from contention for secretary of defense after reports emerged of past incidents of domestic violence within his family.

“I didn’t ask him to withdraw,” Trump told reporters before leaving the White House.

“But he walked in this morning, he said it’s going to be a rough time for him because of obviously what happened. But I did not ask him to withdraw. He presented me with a letter this morning. That was his – that was his decision.”

He described Shanahan as “a wonderful person” and said he was “going to take some time off for family matters.”

Trump said he had heard about the domestic violence allegations on Monday for the first time.

“We have a great vetting process, but this is something that came up a little bit over the last short period of time.”

Earlier, Trump tweeted that 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.”

USA Today reported Tuesday that the FBI, as part of pre-confirmation vetting, has been looking into a domestic dispute from 2010 involving Shanahan and his then wife, Kimberley. It cited court filings and police reports in which the couple accused each other of assault.

In a statement to the paper Shanahan denied having hit his then wife, and made reference to “substance abuse and other emotional issues” on her part.

Shanahan released a public statement later Tuesday confirming that he had both withdrawn from contention for the top Pentagon post and would be resigning as deputy defense secretary.

The former Boeing Co. executive served as deputy defense secretary from 2017 until January 1 this year, when Trump named him acting secretary after former Marine Corps. Gen. Jim Mattis left that post following policy differences with the president.

Shanahan underwent vetting after being nominated for the deputy secretary post in 2017, and was confirmed by the Senate in a 92-7 vote on July 18 of that year.

“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 in the statement.

“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.”

One of Shanahan’s last actions before his sudden resignation was an announcement on Monday night authorizing the deployment of around 1,000 more U.S. troops to the Middle East, amid continuing tensions with Iran.

Secretary of the Army Mark Esper. (Photo: DoD)

Earlier, Trump tweeted that he knows Esper – his nominee as Shanahan’s successor – and that he has “no doubt he will do a fantastic job!”

Esper has served as Secretary of the Army since November 2017, prior to which he was a senior executive at the Raytheon Company for seven years, most recently as vice president for government relations.

Capitol Hill experience includes working as national security advisor to then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), as policy director for the House Armed Services Committee, and as senior policy advisor to former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Nebr.) – who went on to serve as President Obama’s secretary of defense in 2013-15.

“His Pentagon experience includes serving as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Negotiations Policy) in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and earlier on the Army staff as a war planner,” according to his DoD biography.

A West Point graduate, Esper served as an infantry officer with the 101st Airborne Division in the first Gulf War, and subsequently commanded an airborne rifle company in Europe. He later served in the Virginia and D.C. National Guard and Army Reserve, before retiring in 2007.

In the late 1990s, Esper was chief of staff at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

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