Trump says he intends to nominate Esper to lead Pentagon

Trump says he intends to nominate Esper to lead Pentagon
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' MORE intends to nominate Mark Esper to permanently lead the Defense Department, the White House announced Friday night.

Esper, who is currently the secretary of the Army, was selected by Trump earlier this week to serve as acting Defense secretary starting Monday. The White House said in a statement Friday that Trump had announced his "intent" to formally nominate Esper to the post.

Trump's plan to put Esper forward for Senate confirmation comes after Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanOvernight Defense: US shoots down Iranian drone | Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia | Trump mulls Turkey sanctions | Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia: reports The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet MORE, who led the Pentagon in an acting capacity since January, withdrew this week from consideration to lead the department on a permanent basis.

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Esper was confirmed as Army secretary by the Senate 89-6 in the fall of 2017, though it is unclear what path his forthcoming nomination will take in the upper chamber given the uncertainty surrounding the top leadership post in recent months.

A former infantry officer, Esper previously served as a top executive at the defense contractor Raytheon before joining the Trump administration in 2017. He would be Trump's second permanent Defense secretary if confirmed by the Senate, after James MattisJames Norman MattisWatchdog: Former Pentagon spokeswoman misused staff for personal errands Senate panel advances Pentagon chief, Joint Chiefs chairman nominees The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment MORE.

Mattis left the administration late last year, and Shanahan, a former longtime Boeing executive who was deputy secretary at the Pentagon, has served as acting head of the department since then.

Trump had said he planned to nominate Shanahan to lead the Pentagon on a permanent basis, but never officially sent the nomination to the Senate. On Tuesday, the president announced Shanahan's abrupt withdrawal from consideration for the post, saying he wanted to "devote more time to his family."

The announcement came as reports emerged detailing multiple instances of past domestic violence involving Shanahan's family.

Shanahan said in a statement that going forward with 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.”

Senators said they were caught off guard by Shanahan’s withdrawal, but expressed support for Esper’s reported nomination, which comes amid rising tensions with Iran over the downing of a U.S. surveillance drone earlier this week.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Media cried wolf: Calling every Republican a racist lost its bite Rubio criticizes reporters, Democrat for racism accusations against McCain MORE (R-S.C.) earlier this week called Esper an “excellent choice” to lead the Pentagon and “confirmable.” 

“I think a lot of Mark Esper,” Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate panel advances Pentagon chief, Joint Chiefs chairman nominees Trump's pick to lead Pentagon glides through confirmation hearing Trump says US will not sell Turkey F-35s after Russian missile defense system purchase MORE (R-Okla.) said. “I’ve watched his style of working with the troops. He does really a good job.”

However, Esper’s lobbying past could bring up potential concerns over conflicts of interest.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) executive director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement that Esper “risk[s] being tainted by his previous work for a major defense contractor." The group’s allegations against Shanahan in part prompted an inspector general investigation earlier this year that eventually cleared him.

The White House put forward Esper's name to lead the Pentagon as the possibility of U.S. military action against Iran loomed large Friday after the president said he decided to call off an overnight strike against the country due to concerns about casualties.

In addition to Esper, the White House on Friday also announced that David Norquist would be tapped as deputy Defense secretary. Norquist has served as Under Secretary of Defense and as the Pentagon's chief financial officer since 2017.

Ryan McCarthy, the current Under Secretary of the Army and a former airborne ranger, is also expected to nominated by Trump to lead the military service, succeeding Esper.

– Tal Axelrod contributed