Esper Named Acting Pentagon Chief as Trump Withdraws Shanahan Nomination

President Donald Trump on Tuesday withdrew the nomination of Patrick Shanahan to be the permanent defense secretary, leaving the Pentagon in transition at a time of escalating tensions with Iran and questions about the role of the military on the border with Mexico, The New York Times reported.

Shanahan, a former Boeing executive who had been serving as the acting defense secretary, announced his resignation as an FBI background investigation, conducted on all cabinet nominees, was continuing because of incidents of family violence.

Shanahan’s ex-wife had accused him of punching her in the stomach, which he has denied. He said his ex-wife started the fight, and his spokesman said she was arrested and charged with domestic violence. The charges were eventually dropped.

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, but told reporters he was a “highly respected” graduate of West Point and Harvard and predicted that “he’ll do very well.”

The President said the withdrawal was the choice of Shanahan, who told Trump of his decision in an Oval Office meeting on Tuesday, shortly before Trump made the announcement in a Twitter post.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Shanahan said that “I would welcome the opportunity to be secretary of defense, but not at the expense of being a good father.” He said that he became worried that his “continuation 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.”

Shanahan’s resignation is not expected to have much effect on defense policy. Unlike his predecessor, Jim Mattis, Shanahan had largely acquiesced to the White House on a wide range of issues, including Trump’s recent decisions to deploy 2,500 troops to the Persian Gulf to counter the influence of Iran, The Times noted.

In addition to Esper, who was confirmed as secretary of the Army in November 2017, officials said Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, and Richard V. Spencer, the secretary of the Navy, were on the short list for defense secretary.

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