WASHINGTON — Dogged by questions over whether he’s fit for the job, Patrick Shanahan will not be going forward in the confirmation process to be secretary of defense, President Trump said Tuesday.
Shanahan, who left an executive position at Boeing to join the administration in 2017, has backed out of the running “so that he can devote more time to his family,” the president said in a tweet.
This news comes over a month after Trump announced that Shanahan would head up the Pentagon. The White House never formally sent his nomination to the Senate. The FBI’s background check of Shanahan involved allegations that during his 2010 divorce, he had assaulted his wife, now known as Kimberley Jordinson, according to Yahoo News and USA Today. A subsequent piece (including interviews with Shanahan) at The Washington Post reported past abuse by his then-wife involving his children, including an incident where she beat her son and tried to set his clothes on fire, and a separate incident in 2011 where his son cracked her skull with a baseball bat.
The outlets claimed that the FBI background investigation had stalled Shanahan’s nomination.
Sources suggest to TAC that the information released recently about Shanahan’s messy divorce played a role in his decision to step down. Shanahan seemed to confirm that in a statement Tuesday afternoon, where he said that protecting his three children is his priority.
“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,” Shanahan 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,” he added. “Ultimately, their safety and well-being is my highest priority.”
Shanahan’s time as acting head of the Pentagon had also been clouded by questions over whether he had the experience to lead the Defense Department, how his friendly relationship with his long-time former employer Boeing might affect his tenure, and whether he was overly deferential to National Security Adviser John Bolton and his staff.
Mark Esper, the secretary of the Army, will replace Shanahan as acting defense secretary, Trump also tweeted Tuesday.
Like Shanahan, Esper is another in the long line of candidates that have come through the revolving door between the DoD and the arms industry. Prior to his appointment, Esper worked for defense contractor Raytheon as vice president for government relations.
The Pentagon, which Esper will now lead, is currently reviewing Raytheon’s planned merger with United Technologies.
Unlike Shanahan, Esper has military experience. A classmate of Congressman Mark Green and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1986 and served in the Army for over a decade, completing Ranger and Pathfinder training. Esper served with the 101st Airborne Division in the Gulf War and also commanded an airborne rifle company while stationed in Europe.
Esper received the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, the Kuwait Liberation Medal, the Kuwait Liberation Medal – Saudi Arabia, and the Combat Infantryman Badge. He also has a master of public administration degree from Harvard University and a doctorate in public policy from George Washington University.
Esper is also no stranger to Washington’s halls of power—one could say that for him, the revolving door has been spinning for at least two decades. He worked as chief of staff at the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation from 1996 to 1998, and then as a senior staffer for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. He also worked as a senior policy adviser and legislative director for Senator Chuck Hagel, policy director for the House Armed Services Committee, and, from 2002 to 2004, deputy assistant secretary of defense for negotiations policy for the George W. Bush administration. From 2004 to 2006, he worked as director for national security affairs for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
After 2006, Esper held a variety of political and industry positions, including a stint as executive vice president for the Aerospace Industries Association, executive vice president of the Global Intellectual Property Center, and vice president for Europe and Eurasia at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
In July 2010, he was hired as vice president of government relations by Raytheon, where he was recognized as a top corporate lobbyist by The Hill in 2015 and 2016.
Trump nominated Esper as secretary of the army on July 19, 2017. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on November 15, 2017, and sworn in 3 days later.
Barbara Boland is TAC’s national security and foreign policy reporter. Follow her on Twitter @BBatDC