Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has decided to pull out from the nomination process to become full-time Defense Secretary amid news reports that he, his ex-wife and son were involved in domestic violence incidents in 2010 and 2011.
“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.”
President Donald Trump announced Tuesday via Twitter that Shanahan would step down. Trump named Mark Esper, the Secretary of the Army and former Raytheon executive, to fill the vacant role on a temporary basis.
Questions began to swirl about Shanahan’s future once the White House failed to file formal paperwork with Congress more than a month after Trump announced his intention to nominate him. Much of the speculation centered on Shanahan’s relationship with Trump and his staff. But this week, media reports began to trickle out about a messy divorce that involved accusations of domestic violence.
The first story came Monday from Yahoo News in a report that said Shanahan’s confirmation hearing was delayed due to a protracted FBI investigation into a 2010 incident in which his ex-wife, Kimberley Jordinson, was arrested and charged for domestic violence. On Tuesday, USA TODAY reported more information on the apparent alcohol-fueled domestic altercation, publishing an audio recording of the 911 call, as well as the subsequent police report that detailed a bloodied Shanahan and Jordinson accusing one another of physical abuse.
A third story from the Washington Post appeared nearly simultaneously with Trump’s tweet about Shanahan’s departure from the Pentagon. The Post reported Shanahan’s 17-year-old son, William Shanahan, was arrested in 2011 after an incident in which he hit Jordinson, his mother, with a baseball bat.
Shanahan did not address the specifics of any of the reported incidents in his released statement. “I have the greatest confidence in our civilian and military leaders and the vitality of the institution,” Shanahan said, adding: “I would welcome the opportunity to be Secretary of Defense, but not at the expense of being a good father.”
His departure culminates a rocky six-month tenure in the position at the Pentagon, a period that earned him the dubious distinction of being the longest serving “Acting Defense Secretary” in the nation’s history. He initially joined the Trump Administration in 2017 when he stepped into the No. 2 spot at the Pentagon following a more than 30-year career at Boeing.
Shanahan emerged as the leading contender to become Defense Secretary after James Mattis stepped down from the job on Dec. 31. But his nomination was initially held up because the Defense Department Inspector General had launched an investigation into whether Shanahan violated any ethics rules by promoting his longtime former employer, while serving at the Pentagon. After he cleared those allegations, Trump announced his intention to nominate him to be the next Secretary of Defense. That was on May 9.
Some Senate Republicans had warned Administration officials for several weeks that a confirmation fight amid the allegations against Shanahan could cost the party politically as the 2020 elections approach. First, as one Republican Senate staffer told TIME on Tuesday, defending Trump’s nominee against the allegations would provide political fodder for Democratic presidential, Senate, House and statehouse candidates who already are campaigning on women’s right to equal pay and other issues. “The facts may not be clear, but it’s perceptions that count,” said the staffer, who requested anonymity to discuss internal conversations.
Second, the staffer said, the U.S. military is already facing a number of gender-related issues, including physical and emotional abuse, “and the last thing it needs is a Secretary whose spouse accused him of hitting her.”
Shanahan’s last day will be Friday. His departure means the Pentagon will go without a full-time leader for at least another month. It is already the longest period in Defense Department history without a confirmed Secretary and comes during one of the most chaotic periods in recent memory.
The U.S. is facing headwinds in virtually every corner of the globe. There’s a tense stand-off with Iran. A chilly relationship with China. Russia continues to make problems for the U.S in Europe. The Taliban shows no sign of retreat in Afghanistan. The military is still juggling the fight against terror groups across the Middle East and Africa. And tensions with North Korea continue to be unresolved.
“It is critical that the President nominate, and that the Senate confirm, a permanent Secretary of Defense as quickly as possible,” Mac Thornberry, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. “This job should be filled in a matter of a few weeks, not months. The uncertainty surrounding this vacant office encourages our enemies and unsettles our allies.”
Esper, 56, ascends to the Acting Defense Secretary job amid the tumult. He’s served as Secretary of Army since November 2017. Unlike Shanahan, Esper previously served in both the military and the government.
After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy in 1986, Esper served as active-duty Army for more than a decade. He was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division during the first Gulf War and later commanded a rifle company in Europe. He also served in both the Virginia and District of Columbia National Guard, and Army Reserve.
Esper picked up political experience working on national security issues for Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill. He later took a job with the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade and lobbying organization for defense contractors. Most recently, he was an executive at Raytheon, one of the world’s largest arms manufacturers.
With reporting by John Walcott in Washington