WASHINGTON—Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan abandoned his quest for the top Pentagon job on Tuesday as a 9-year-old incident involving domestic violence in his family was cited in media reports, plunging the leadership of the U.S. military into new uncertainty just as tensions with Iran are rising.
“It is unfortunate that a painful and deeply personal family situation from long ago is being dredged up,” Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, said in a statement.
Shanahan said he alone made the decision, which was first announced by U.S. President Donald Trump in a tweet. Shanahan cited a “painful” family that would hurt his children and reopen “wounds we have worked years to heal.”
“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,” Shanahan said in a statement. “Ultimately, their safety and well-being is my highest priority.”
Hours after naming Secretary of the Army Mark Esper to replace Shanahan as acting secretary, Trump told reporters he would likely nominate the former Raytheon executive and army veteran to the defense secretary position. Esper will take over as acting secretary on Monday, the Pentagon said.
Shanahan had been due to go before U.S. senators for confirmation hearings when a nine-year-old dispute involving Shanahan and his then-wife around the time of his 2011 divorce surfaced from FBI background checks. The couple had been married since 1986.
His ex-wife, Kimberley, was arrested several times on charges that included burglary, property damage and assault. The assault charge was a misdemeanor for domestic violence in August 2010 when, according to police records, she hit Shanahan a number of times, giving him a bloody nose and black eye. The police report said she was not injured, and he was not charged.
There was also a separate November 2011 incident in which the couple’s son, who was 17 at the time, struck his mother with a baseball bat in the home where he lived with her in Sarasota, Florida, according to court records. He pleaded guilty to battery and was sentenced to four years of probation.
In an interview with The Washington Post shortly before Trump announced that Shanahan was withdrawing his nomination, Shanahan spoke about the circumstances surrounding his 2011 divorce and said he didn’t want to drag his children through the experience again.
“Bad things can happen to good families … and this is a tragedy, really,” Shanahan told the Post. He added that the FBI’s disclosure of the incident would “ruin my son’s life.”
Shanahan had also been subject to a Pentagon investigation over allegations of seeking preferential treatment of Boeing while at the department. He had been cleared of any wrongdoing in April.
Shanahan’s ex-wife and son could not be reached for comment.
Shanahan, 56, was thrust into the role in an acting capacity in January, after then-defence Secretary Jim Mattis resigned over policy differences with Trump.
In recent weeks, Shanahan has been a prominent figure in addressing security risks in the Middle East. He was the one to announce the deployment of about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East on Monday, citing concerns about an Iranian threat.
4 of 4: We will continue to monitor the situation diligently & make adjustments to force levels as necessary given intelligence reporting & credible threats.
— Acting SecDef Pat Shanahan (@ActingSecDef) June 17, 2019
The decision to stand down prolongs what has already been the longest period without a confirmed defense secretary.
Shanahan was the longest official in history to serve as secretary of defense in only an acting capacity, according to Pentagon records.
By Phil Stewart and Steve Holland
With reporting by The Associated Press