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Shanahan withdraws as defense secretary nominee

FILE — Patrick Shanahan, the acting defense secretary, participates in a Cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, Jan. 2, 2019. Trump pulled the nomination of Shanahan to be the permanent defense secretary on June 18, and named Mark Esper, the secretary of the Army and a former Raytheon executive, to take over as acting secretary of defense. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
June 18, 2019 02:24 pm Updated: June 18, 2019 02:25 pm

President Donald Trump on Tuesday pulled the nomination of Patrick M. Shanahan to be the permanent defense secretary, saying on Twitter that Shanahan would devote more time to his family.

Trump named Mark T. Esper, the secretary of the Army and a former Raytheon executive, to take over as acting secretary of defense. He did not say whether Esper would be nominated for the permanent position.

The move leaves the Pentagon without a permanent leader at a time of escalating tensions with Iran regarding attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. The Trump administration has blamed Iran for the explosions that damaged the two tankers.

At the Pentagon, officials were still discussing that the routine FBI investigation for Cabinet nominees was dragging on for Shanahan because of his divorce, which included an allegation from his ex-wife — denied by Shanahan — that he punched her in the stomach. Shanahan said that his ex-wife started the fight, and his spokesman said that she was arrested and charged with domestic violence, charges which were eventually dropped.

According to court documents viewed by The New York Times, in 2011 Shanahan’s son, who was 16 at the time, hit his mother repeatedly with a baseball bat, and she was hospitalized.

In an interview with The Washington Post published Tuesday, Patrick Shanahan said that “bad things can happen to good families.” He called the episode “a tragedy” and said that dredging it up publicly “will ruin my son’s life.”

During his six-month tenure as the department’s acting secretary, Shanahan was criticized for slighting Lockheed Martin, Boeing’s chief competitor, for its mismanagement of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, an aircraft that is years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget.

He was widely viewed as acquiescing to the White House and other government officials, including John Bolton, the national security adviser, and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state. Shanahan famously said that the Pentagon would not be viewed as the “Department of No.”

Trump’s decision not to move ahead with Shanahan is the latest evidence of the difficulty that the president has had in permanently filling the top jobs in his administration.

The president also has an acting chief of staff at the White House and an acting secretary of homeland security.

Esper, a top lobbyist for Raytheon and an executive at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has a long history of ties to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, where he worked as an adviser to Bill Frist, the former Senate majority leader, and various committees with jurisdiction over foreign policy and national security.