Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan steps down, withdraws from Cabinet consideration

Shanahan, Trump said, "has decided not to go forward with his confirmation process so that he can devote more time to his family."

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By Adam Edelman, Hallie Jackson, Kristen Welker and Courtney Kube

Patrick Shanahan, the acting secretary of defense who President Donald Trump said would be tapped to take over the job permanently, is stepping down and withdrawing from consideration for the Cabinet position, Trump said Tuesday.

“Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick 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.

Secretary of the Army Mark Esper, a former Raytheon executive, will take Shanahan's place as acting defense secretary, Trump said.

The announcement came within minutes of a report published in The Washington Post that outlined a series of alleged domestic violence incidents within Shanahan's family.

In a statement, Shanahan confirmed he was withdrawing from consideration for the Cabinet post and was resigning from the Department of Defense altogether. He called it "unfortunate" that details from the Post story were “dredged up” and said that continuing with the confirmation process would harm his children.

"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,” Shanahan said Tuesday. “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 said. “I would welcome the opportunity to be Secretary of Defense, but not at the expense of being a good father.

NBC News has not confirmed The Post’s report, which was based on two days of interviews with Shanahan, as well as court records and police records from Sarasota, Florida, and Seattle, as well as other information that had not been previously made public. NBC News has not reviewed any of the documents.

Shanahan spoke to The Post on Monday and Tuesday about domestic violence incidents, including the arrest of Shanahan’s wife in 2010 after she allegedly punched him in the face and, in a separate incident, the arrest of his son in November 2011 after hitting his mother with a baseball bat.

In the 2011 incident, Shanahan’s then-17-year-old son, William, brutally assaulted his mother, Shanahan’s ex-wife, leaving her unconscious in a pool of her own blood with a fractured skull and internal injuries, according to court and Sarasota police records obtained by The Post.

According to Sarasota police, William then unplugged the landline phone, preventing his mother and his younger brother from calling 911.

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Weeks after the attack, The Post reported, Shanahan defended his son, writing in a memo that he had acted in “self-defense.”

Shanahan told The Post during his interviews this week that “bad things can happen to good families” and that “this is a tragedy, really.”

He also said he "was wrong to write" the memo defending his son and that he "never believed Will’s attack on his mother was an act of self-defense or justified."

“I don't believe violence is appropriate ever, and certainly never any justification for attacking someone with a baseball bat,” he told The Post.

On Tuesday morning, Shanahan visited the president at the White House and told him he would be withdrawing from the nomination process, White House and Pentagon sources said. Shanahan said he didn’t want his personal past to be a distraction, and said it was the best decision for him and his family.

Trump was measured, telling Shanahan he understood his decision. Also in the room were acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, national security adviser John Bolton, White House counsel Pat Cipillone, press secretary Sarah Sanders and principal deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley, the sources said.

White House officials have known for a while that support in the Senate for Shanahan’s confirmation was not completely assured, and the administration has known about the reported domestic violence incidents for some time, the sources said.

Within moments of Shanahan’s departure, Trump called Esper, the sources said. Trump and Esper have a good working relationship, and the Army secretary's allies have been championing him to the president for weeks, multiple sources told NBC News. Trump then offered Esper the position of acting defense secretary, and he accepted.

A Defense official told NBC news that Shanahan’s last day will be Friday.

Democrats expressed fury that the allegations hadn't been known earlier, with at least one demanding an investigation into the vetting process for Shanahan, who was confirmed by the Senate in 2017 as deputy defense secretary.

“There was possibly a deliberate concealment here,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said at a press conference Tuesday. “There ought to be an investigation by the IG in the Department of Defense.”

Blumenthal said there was “absolutely no reason" for failing to disclose to the committee "that there was something in this nominee’s past … that was deliberately concealed or mistakenly covered up.”

Shanahan “was under an obligation to reveal it himself,” the senator said.

“This is potentially a violation of criminal law,” Blumenthal added. “Lying to the Armed Services Committee, not to mention to the president if he failed to mention it there, is a violation.”

Last week, NBC News reported that Trump was having second thoughts about Shanahan as his next secretary of defense and had recently asked several confidants about alternative candidates.

The White House announced May 9 that Trump had decided to nominate Shanahan, who has served as acting defense secretary since January. But the White House never formally submitted Shanahan's nomination to the Senate.

While in Normandy, France, this month to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Trump asked at least three people what they thought of Shanahan and if they had any suggestions for different candidates, four people familiar with the conversations told NBC News.

Those people said Esper was discussed as a possible replacement should Trump change his mind.

Esper has served as Army secretary since November 2017. He was previously a senior executive in government relations at the Raytheon Company and an executive at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center. He also worked as an executive at the Aerospace Industries Association and as national security adviser for former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

NBC News has reported that the FBI process for updating Shanahan's security clearance was not yet complete. Shanahan has had a security clearance as the acting secretary and the deputy defense secretary prior to that.

Shanahan had been serving as acting Pentagon chief since James Mattis resigned as defense secretary at the end of December over a string of policy differences with Trump.

Mosheh Gains and Hans Nichols contributed.