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 TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE intends to nominate Mark EsperMark EsperPentagon chief: US giving Vietnam surplus ship for coast guard Talks stall on defense costs with South Korea Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Stopgap spending bill includes military pay raise | Schumer presses Pentagon to protect impeachment witnesses | US ends civil-nuclear waiver in Iran MORE 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 ShanahanDefense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China's investments, blasts Russia Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall Why Dave Norquist is the perfect choice for DOD's deputy secretary 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 MattisOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Amazon to challenge Pentagon's 'war cloud' decision in federal court Former Mattis staffer: Trump 'shooting himself in the foot' on foreign policy 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 GrahamGraham: Report on alleged surveillance abuse in 2016 to be released Dec. 9 McConnell hopes Senate impeachment trial 'not too lengthy a process' Hillicon Valley: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack 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 InhofeOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pentagon watchdog says Syria withdrawal hurt ISIS fight | Vindman testifies on third day of public hearings | Lawmakers to wrap up defense bill talks this week Lawmakers expect to finish defense policy bill negotiations this week Bipartisan senators urge national security adviser to appoint 5G coordinator 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