WHITE HOUSE - Carla Babb contributed to this report from the Pentagon.
U.S. Army Secretary Mark Esper will likely be his nominee as defense secretary, President Donald Trump has told reporters.
Trump spoke positively about Esper just hours after he announced Patrick Shanahan had withdrawn from consideration, saying the acting defense secretary wants to spend more time with his family.
Trump on Tuesday, speaking to reporters before boarding Marine One, praised Shanahan as “a wonderful person.”
“I did not ask him to withdraw,” said Trump of Shanahan, who removed his name from consideration after two newspapers (USA Today and The Washington Post) reported Tuesday the Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into a nine-year-old domestic dispute between Shanahan and his then-wife, Kimberly, as part of a background check before the confirmation hearing.
His wife was arrested after punching him in the face, and his son was arrested after a separate incident in which he hit his mother with a baseball bat.
Shanahan, in a statement, said “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. 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.”
Trump said he only learned of the Shanahan family troubles the day before.
“It’s very unfortunate,” added the president. “It’s a difficult time for Pat.”
Trump praised Esper as experienced and said he would fit in well running the Pentagon.
“Frankly this could happen very quickly for Mark Esper,” remarked the president.
The lack of a confirmed defense secretary comes amid rising U.S. tensions with Iran.
Trump brushed off concerns about Iran on Tuesday.
“We’re very well prepared for Iran,” he said.
Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, had been acting defense secretary since James Mattis resigned in December.
Esper, who was a vice president at defense contractor Raytheon for seven years, also served as national security adviser for a former Senate Majority Leader and policy director for the House Armed Services Committee.