Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Tuesday he had withdrawn from consideration to head the USA military as reports of domestic violence in his family surfaced, stoking uncertainty about the leadership of the Pentagon as tensions with Iran rise.
He said Shanahan would not be going through with the Senate confirmation process to take on the top Pentagon post permanently, but would instead "devote more time with his family". He served as National Security Advisor for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist; Policy Director for the House Armed Services Committee; and as a Professional Staff Member on the Senate Foreign Relations and Government Affairs Committees where he was responsible for national security issues.
The president said, however, that they have a "very good vetting process" and this "came up a little bit over the last short period of time".
"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".
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Earlier on Tuesday, US media reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been investigating a 2010 domestic fight between Shanahan and his then-wife.
"I can't tell you how long the process is supposed to work", Shanahan responded when asked why it is taking so long for his paperwork to be sent from the White House.
He said he did not want his three children "to relive a traumatic chapter in our family's life and reopen wounds we have worked years to heal".
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Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, has been leading the Pentagon as acting secretary since January 1, a highly unusual arrangement for arguably the most sensitive Cabinet position. While Shanahan said he "never laid a hand" on then-wife Kimberly Jordinson, according to the paper, she said she stands by her account.
Shanahan, who grew up in Seattle, was nominated and confirmed as deputy defense secretary in 2017.
Esper is a former army officer who served in the US-led 1990-1991 Gulf war to end Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, then became a senior executive at weapons and aerospace company Raytheon.
In a statement, Mr. Shanahan said that continuing with the process would be devastating to his children and would force them to relive traumatic personal experiences dating back almost a decade.
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This is a developing story.