Shanahan Steps Down, Esper to be Named Acting Defense Secretary

Army Secretary Mark Esper speaks at a DA Civilian Town Hall in the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., April 29, 2019. Army photo by Spc. Dana Clarke.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is stepping down from his position and withdrawing from consideration for the Pentagon’s top job, and President Donald Trump announced via Twitter that Army Secretary Mark Esper will be named the new acting Secretary.

In a statement released June 18, Shanahan said, “it has been a deep honor and privilege to serve our country alongside the men and women of the Department of Defense.” He added, “After significant reflection, I have asked to be withdrawn from consideration for Secretary of Defense and will resign my position as deputy secretary of defense. I will coordinate an appropriate transition plan to ensure that the men and women in harm’s way receive all the support they need to continue protecting our great nation.”

Esper would be the third man, acting or confirmed, to hold the post during the Trump administration. Shanahan took over as acting Secretary after the abrupt departure of former Secretary Jim Mattis in December. Trump announced in May, also via Twitter, his intent to nominate Shanahan to be Secretary, though the White House never officially nominated him.

Reports began to emerge this week that an FBI background investigation uncovered a 2010 domestic violence incident with Shanahan and his then-wife, who was arrested at the time, though Shanahan later dropped the charges.

“The confirmation process should focus on securing our nation against threats, readiness, and the future of our military, and ensuring the highest quality care and support for service members and their families,” wrote Shanahan in the statement. “After having been confirmed for deputy secretary less than two years ago, it is unfortunate that such a painful and deeply personal family situation from long ago is being dredged up and painted in an incomplete and therefore misleading way as a result of this nomination process. I believe my continuing in the confirmtion 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 year after the 2010 domestic violence incident, Shanahan’s then 17-year-old son, William, brutally beat his mom with a baseball bat. Shanahan wrote in a memo following the attack that his son had “acted in self defense,” though he later said violence is never appropriate and the attack was not justified, reported the Washington Post.

Shanahan, a former longtime Boeing executive, also faced an ethics complaint that prompted a Defense Department Inspector General investigation. The investigation cleared him, seemingly opening the door to the nomination.

With Esper moving to acting Secretary of Defense, the Army will soon be the second military service to be led by an acting Secretary. Matt Donovan, who until recently was the Air Force’s under secretary, is now serving as the acting Secretary of the Air Force, after former SECAF Heather Wilson resigned to become the president of the University of Texas at El Paso. In addition, the Pentagon’s No. 2 job is temporarily filled by David Norquist, who is performing the duties of the deputy secretary of defense.

The White House did not immediately answer on June 18 if Trump plans to formally nominate Esper for the top civilian Pentagon job.