Donald Trump’s acting defence secretary has withdrawn from consideration after a series of domestic violence incidents within his family came to light.
The US president announced on Tuesday that Patrick Shanahan, 56, had “decided not to go forward with his confirmation process” to lead the Pentagon permanently.
Mr Trump said the army secretary, Mark Esper, will come in as acting secretary of defence. The post has been vacant since James Mattis resigned in December over Mr Trump’s sudden decision to remove US troops from Syria.
The new upheaval leaves the Pentagon without a permanent leader at a time of rising tensions in the Middle East, with America accusing Iran of attacking oil tankers in the strategic Gulf of Oman.
Mr Shanahan’s nomination process in the Senate had been delayed by an FBI background check because of the details surrounding his divorce, including a 2010 claim by his ex-wife that he punched her in the stomach.
A spokesman for Mr Shanahan said that his ex-wife, who now goes by Kimberley Jordinson, started the fight and it was she who was arrested and charged with domestic violence.
Court documents also revealed that Mr Shanahan’s 17-year-old son William repeatedly beat his mother with a baseball bat in 2011, leaving her in hospital with a fractured skull and elbow.
Two weeks later, Mr Shanahan stated in a note to his ex-wife’s brother that his son had acted in self-defence.
“Use of a baseball bat in self-defense will likely be viewed as an imbalance of force,” he wrote. “However, Will’s mother harassed him for nearly three hours before the incident.”
In an interview with The Washington Post published on Tuesday, Mr Shanahan said that “bad things can happen to good families” and said he feared the publicity “will ruin my son’s life.”
He also said he regretted writing the memo suggesting there could be any justification for an assault with a baseball bat.
Ms Jordinson maintained in a recent interview that Mr Shanahan had hit her in 2010 as the pair struggled over a briefcase.
….I thank Pat for his outstanding service and will be naming Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, to be the new Acting Secretary of Defense. I know Mark, and have no doubt he will do a fantastic job!
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2019
However officers who were called to the family home concluded that Ms Jordinson, not Mr Shanahan, had been the attacker. Police said they could find no injuries on Ms Jordinson, but Mr Shanahan was sporting a bloody nose and his wife “appeared to be intoxicated” and had “blood stains” on her right forearm.
She was later arrested on a domestic assault charge but prosecutors dropped the case the next year because of a lack of evidence.
At the time, the couple’s son William submitted a statement to his mother’s lawyer stating that she called him for help during the struggle. But this week he told USA Today that his mother “coerced” him to sign the document meant to assist her defence. “I did what she told me,” he said.
During her divorce Ms Jordinson was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, and police records show there have been ongoing concerns about her mental stability when officers have responded to multiple calls from her home.
Details of the incidents have started to emerge in US media reports about Mr Shanahan’s nomination process.
The former Boeing executive has been leading the Pentagon as acting secretary since January 1 despite having very little experience in government, a highly unusual arrangement for one of the most sensitive Cabinet positions.
In more than four months as the acting secretary, he focused on a shift from the resources and tactics required to fight small wars against extremist groups to what Mr Shanahan calls “great power” competition with China and Russia.
Addressing his withdrawal, he said: “I believe my continuing in the confirmation process would force my three children to relive a traumatic chapter in our family’s life.”