Shanahan Out; Army Secretary Esper to Be Acting SecDef
This post has been updated.
In a shock announcement on Tuesday, President Trump tweeted that he has named Army Secretary Mark Esper to be his new acting defense secretary, and that the current acting secretary, Patrick Shanahan, “has decided not to go forward with his confirmation process” to hold the role permanently amid explosive revelations about his turbulent 2015 divorce.
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,” Trump tweeted. “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!”
The sudden move comes after months of speculation surrounding Shanahan’s nomination. The White House announced in May that Trump intended to nominate him to hold the position left vacant after Jim Mattis’s protest resignation and subsequent firing in December.
But the White House never sent the formal paperwork necessary to kickstart Shanahan’s confirmation to the Senate, and rumors have circulated Washington that Trump was getting cold feet — or that there was something holding up Shanahan’s background check.
In interviews with The Washington Post on Monday and Tuesday, Shanahan publicly detailed the circumstances of his divorce, which court documents and Shanahan’s testimony reveal numerous incidents of domestic violence. Shanahan’s wife was arrested after hitting him in the face in 2010 and his teenaged son brutally beat his mother with a baseball bat in 2011, according to The Post.
“Bad things can happen to good families… and this is a tragedy, really,” Shanahan told The Post. Reliving the episode in public, as would likely have happened during the confirmation process, he said, “will ruin my son’s life.”
The Pentagon has fielded rumors about the former Boeing executive’s divorce for months. Shanahan’s former wife makes an unsubstantiated allegation of one instance of physical abuse in her filings. Shanahan denies striking his then-wife, and according to court records, she was arrested after hitting him in the face that night.
It was not immediately clear Tuesday whether Shanahan would continue to serve in his former capacity as deputy defense secretary, for which he was confirmed in 2017. As of now, he is still operating in his post as acting defense secretary.
A 1986 graduate of West Point, Esper graduated from the Army’s Ranger and Pathfinder schools. During the 1990-91 Gulf War, he served with the 101st Airborne Division, earning the Bronze Star and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. After leaving active service, he served as chief of staff at the conservative Heritage Foundation, then moved through various staff positions with members and committees on Capitol Hill. In the George W. Bush administration, he was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Negotiations Policy, then returned to the Hill to serve as the Senate’s director for National Security Affairs.