Mark T. Esper at the 2018 HQDA Attache Reception March 15, 2018. Photo by Staff Sgt. Brandy N. Mejia.


Shanahan out as Pentagon chief; Army Secretary Esper steps in

In a tweet, President Donald Trump announced that acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan was resigning and withdrawing his name from consideration to hold the top Pentagon job on an acting basis. Trump announced that Army Secretary Mark Esper is taking over as acting defense secretary.

The Senate Armed Services Committee pushed back planned hearings for Shanahan to confirm his elevation to defense secretary from June to July. Trump himself last week said that the nomination was moving forward.

"He's going to get the nomination. He's gotten, look he's been recommended. Now, he has to be approved by Congress," Trump said on June 14 in a ranging interview on Fox and Friends.

Shanahan's nomination was announced by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders in May but not formally transmitted to the Senate. NBC News reported that Trump was seeking advice on an alternative to Shanahan as recently as last week.

Just this morning, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a member of the Armed Services Committee, said that Shanahan "has been making the rounds on the Hill" in anticipation of a confirmation hearing, although a formal nomination had yet to be made.

Ernst said she had yet to meet with Shanahan about his proposed elevation to the top job.

"But if that nomination comes forward then we will sit down once again.… I would just like to vet him again to talk through any issues that might exist and just get a good feel for him," Ernst said.

Recent vetting of Shanahan for the top job included allegations of domestic violence against former wife Kimberly Jordinson that did not surface during his confirmation to serve as deputy. Shanahan denied that he had hit his former wife. Additionally, the Washington Post reported that Shanahan allegedly minimized an incident in which his ex-wife was assaulted by Shanahan's son with an aluminum baseball bat.

"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," Shanahan said in a statement supplied to reporters after news of his withdrawal broke. "I would welcome the opportunity to be Secretary of Defense, but not at the expense of being a good father."

Shanahan, who was confirmed early in the Trump administration as deputy secretary of defense, came to government from a career as a senior manager and executive from Boeing. His confirmation hearing was memorable for a salty exchange with Sen. John McCain, then chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who criticized Shanahan's responses to answers to questions from the committee.

"It's very disturbing," McCain said. "We have an executive of one of the five major corporations that has corralled our defense budget … and on the major issues that this committee has had hearings about, has had markups about, has reported out of the bill -- and you want to find out more information? Not a good beginning. Not a good beginning."

Esper's background includes a stint as a top lobbyist for defense contractor Raytheon, but he also has government and military service on his resume. He advised former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on national security issues and was policy director for the House Armed Services Committee. Esper also served as a deputy assistant secretary of defense in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and was in the Army for about 10 years and served during the Gulf War.

As Army secretary, Esper has been a leading evangelist for the service's drive to modernize through the establishment of its Futures Command and acquisition reform.

"If we do not modernize the force now, we risk losing a future conflict against Russia or China. It's that simple," Esper said at a February 2019 panel of service secretaries at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "We cannot continue to live off vehicles and equipment that came into the Army when I came into the Army in the 1980s."

June 23 will be Shanahan's last day, and Esper's first, as acting defense secretary, the Pentagon said in a statement. David Norquist will continue performing duties of the deputy defense secretary. 

FCW Staff Writer Lauren C. Williams contributed reporting to this article.

This article was updated June 18 with a statement from Patrick Shanahan and June 19 with a statement from the Pentagon.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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