Trump: Shanahan out at Pentagon, Esper now acting secretary

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan is withdrawing his nomination.

Mark Esper - 23rd U.S. Secretary of the Army and Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense, Photo Date: 6/4/2019 / Source: Davide Dalla Massara / U.S. Army via MGN

Trump tweeted Tuesday that Shanahan had done "a wonderful job" but would step aside to "devote more time to his family."

Shanahan says he stepped down before his formal nomination ever went to the Senate over a "painful" family situation that would hurt his children and reopen "wounds we have worked years to heal."

"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," Shanahan said in a statement. "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."

He provided no other details.

But as a result of that situation, Shanahan said, he asked to be withdrawn from the nomination process and he resigned from his previous post as deputy defense secretary. He said he would work on an "appropriate transition" but it wasn't clear how quickly he will leave the job.

The president added that the Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, will be the new acting secretary.

And, in noting Esper's move, Trump added, "I know Mark, and have no doubt he will do a fantastic job!"

Officials were meeting Tuesday to determine transition plans.

The post atop the Pentagon has not been filled permanently since Gen. James Mattis retired in January.

Trump announced in May that he would nominate Shanahan but the formal nomination process in the Senate had been inexplicably delayed.

Top Senate Democrats say Shanahan's sudden withdrawal Tuesday from consideration as defense secretary shows the shortcomings of White House vetting for key Trump administration jobs.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer says "this Shanahan fiasco shows what a shambles, what a mess" the administration's national security policy is.

Senators say they were largely unaware of allegations around Shanahan's family situation when he was confirmed as deputy defense secretary in 2017.

Republican Lindsey Graham says he had heard "rumors" of potential problems.

Democrat Richard Blumenthal is raising the possibility of "deliberate concealment" of Shanahan's past. He is calling for an investigation by the Defense Department's inspector general.

Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe of Oklahoma is defending the vetting process. He says Trump called him shortly before publicly announcing Shanahan's withdrawal.

Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, has been leading the Pentagon as acting secretary since Jan. 1, a highly unusual arrangement for arguably the most sensitive Cabinet position.

His in tenure at the department he's had to deal with a wide array of international hotspots, ranging from missile launches by North Korea to the sudden shift of military ships and aircraft to the Middle East to deal with potential threats from Iran.

Shanahan, 56, had extensive of experience in the defense industry but little in government. In more than four months as the acting secretary, he focused on implementing the national defense strategy that was developed during Mattis' tenure and emphasizes a shift from the resources and tactics required to fight small wars against extremist groups to what Shanahan calls "great power" competition with China and Russia.

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