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Trump’s pick for secretary of defense withdraws bid

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

President Donald Trump on Tuesday pulled the nomination of Patrick M. Shanahan to be the permanent defense secretary, saying on Twitter that Shanahan would devote more time to his family.

The move leaves the Pentagon without a permanent leader at a time of escalating tensions with Iran after attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The Trump administration has blamed Iran for the explosions that damaged the two tankers.

Trump named Mark T. Esper, the secretary of the Army and a former Raytheon executive, to take over as acting secretary of defense. He did not say whether Esper would be nominated for the permanent position.

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In a Twitter post, the president said the withdrawal was the decision of Shanahan, who has served for six months as acting defense secretary. But it is the president’s prerogative to withdraw the nomination.

“I would welcome the opportunity to be secretary of defense, but not at the expense of being a good father,” Shanahan said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

At the Pentagon, officials were internally discussing that a routine FBI investigation for Cabinet nominees was dragging on for Shanahan because of his divorce, which included an allegation from his ex-wife — denied by Shanahan — that he punched her in the stomach. Shanahan said that his ex-wife started the fight, and his spokesman said that she was arrested and charged with domestic violence, charges which were eventually dropped.

According to court documents viewed by The New York Times, in 2011 Shanahan’s son, who was 17 at the time, hit his mother repeatedly with a baseball bat, and she was hospitalized.

In an interview with The Washington Post published Tuesday, Shanahan said that “bad things can happen to good families.” He called the episode “a tragedy,” and said that dredging it up publicly “will ruin my son’s life.”

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Esper, a top lobbyist for Raytheon and an executive at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has a long history of ties to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Besides Esper, officials said that Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, and Richard V. Spencer, the secretary of the Navy, are on the short list for defense secretary.