Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is withdrawing from consideration to be permanent defense secretary after reports emerged about violent domestic incidents between members of his family several years ago. President Trump announced the move in a tweet Tuesday, saying Secretary of the Army Mark Esper would replace Shanahan as acting defense secretary.
"Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick 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," Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. "I thank Pat for his outstanding service and will be naming Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, to be the new Acting Secretary of Defense. I know Mark, and have no doubt he will do a fantastic job!"
In a statement, Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, said he would also resign as deputy secretary of defense. He was confirmed as deputy secretary of defense in 2017 overwhelmingly, 92-7.
Mr. Trump had yet to formally nominate Shanahan, although Mr. Trump claimed in an interview with ABC News last week that he had "put it out officially" weeks before. A hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee tentatively scheduled for Tuesday morning had been postponed, according to Yahoo News, which reported Monday that the FBI had not submitted documents related to his background check.
Earlier Tuesday, USA Today reported the FBI was examining a 2010 incident between Shanahan and his wife at the time, Kimberley Jordinson, in which both claimed to have been punched by the other. Shanahan said he "never laid a hand on" his wife and his family was being "forced to relive a tragic situation that we have worked so hard as a family to put behind us." USA Today said Jordinson stands by her story.
The Washington Post published an interview with Shanahan shortly after Mr. Trump tweeted that he was withdrawing his name. In the interview, Shanahan discussed a violent incident in 2011 involving Jordinson and their then-17-year-old son, William Shanahan. The Post reported William Shanahan brutally beat his mother, leaving her "unconscious in a pool of blood, her skull fractured and with internal injuries that required surgery, according to court and police records."
Shanahan defended his son in the aftermath of the attack, writing in a memo that his son had acted in self-defense, according to The Post. He told the paper he wrote the memo before realizing the full extent of his wife's injuries.
"Quite frankly it's difficult to relive that moment and the passage was difficult for me to read. I was wrong to write those three sentences," Shanahan told The Post. "I have never believed Will's attack on his mother was an act of self-defense or justified. I don't believe violence is appropriate ever, and certainly never any justification for attacking someone with a baseball bat."
A senior White House official told CBS News that the White House was aware of a domestic incident involving Shanahan's son, and has for some time, but not about the other incident involving his wife.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Shanahan said that it has been "a deep honor and privilege to serve our country alongside the men and women of the Department of Defense."
"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," Shanahan said. "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."
"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," Shanahan continued, adding that he was not willing to become secretary of defense "at the expense of being a good father."
Shanahan stepped in as acting secretary in January, after the retirement of former Defense Secretary James Mattis in December.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday that "we all know" Esper and that "he's a good choice for acting."
However, McConnell said it would be "better to have a confirmed secretary of defense." When asked if he thought Mr. Trump was aware of the domestic disputes for a significant period of time before they came to light, McConnell simply said: "I have no idea."
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe agreed that "for the sake of our national security, we need a confirmed Secretary of Defense — not just an acting — and I hope that we can get to that point as quickly as possible."
Inhofe told reporters later on Tuesday that he believed Shanahan should have withdrawn his name from consideration earlier, in order to speed up the confirmation process with another nominee.
"It should've happened a long time ago," Inhofe said.
According to a spokesperson for Inhofe, Mr. Trump called Inhofe Tuesday morning to inform him Shanahan was withdrawing himself from conversation, and that the president told Shanahan: "I want you to be the first to know."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said it was a difficult time for the Department of Defense to be without a leader, as tensions are escalating between the U.S. and Iran.
"To have no [secretary of defense] at this time is appalling and it shows the chaos in this administration," Schumer said. "Now more than ever it also shows we need vetting" of potential administration officials, he added.
"They have so many empty positions, rotating-revolving doors in the most sensitive of security positions," Schumer said. "They don't like to vet all these Assistant Secretaries, Assistant this, Assistant that, don't get vetted and look what happens when you don't get vetted."
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he believed "there was possibly a deliberate concealment" of Shanahan's domestic issues, and he wanted the department's inspector general to investigate the matter.