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Trump says Shanahan has withdrawn from Defense secretary consideration

Key Points
  • President Trump announces that he will not nominate acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to hold the position in a permanent capacity. 
  • "Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who has done a wonderful job, has decided not to go forward with his confirmation process so that he can devote more time to his family," Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.
  • Army Secretary Mark Esper will become acting Defense secretary, Trump said. 
Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan meets with Portuguese Minister of Defense João Titternigton Gomes Cravinho at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., June 14, 2019.
U.S. Army Sgt. Amber Smith

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Tuesday he will not nominate acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to hold the position in a permanent capacity. He said Army Secretary Mark Esper will become acting Defense secretary.

"Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who has done a wonderful job, has decided not to go forward with his confirmation process so that he can devote more time to his family," Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.

"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!" he wrote in a second tweet.

"It has been a deep honor and privilege to serve our country alongside the men and women of the Department of Defense," Shanahan wrote in a statement on the heels of Trump's announcement.

"After significant reflection, I have asked to be withdrawn from consideration for Secretary of Defense and will resign my position as Deputy Secretary of Defense. I will coordinate an appropriate transition plan to ensure that the men and women in harm's way receive all the support they need to continue protecting our great nation," he added.

Esper had widely been discussed as a possible replacement nominee. Trump told reporters later Tuesday that he will "most likely" nominate Esper to become Defense Secretary permanently, though he did not say when he will do so. 

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Trump: Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to depart

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the Army could not immediately say who would be Esper's replacement.

Earlier on Tuesday, Shanahan released a statement related to a 2010 domestic violence incident involving him and his ex-wife that was reportedly under FBI scrutiny.

Both Shanahan and his wife, who now goes by Kimberley Jordinson, claimed they were hit by the other.

Shanahan was not charged with any crime and has denied hitting his ex-wife.

"I never laid a hand on my then-wife and cooperated fully in a thorough law enforcement investigation that resulted in her being charged with assault against me—charges which I had dropped in the interest of my family," Shanahan said in a statement provided to USA Today.

Shanahan ascended to the acting role in the wake of former Defense chief Jim Mattis' shocking resignation in December. In his resignation letter, Mattis said that disagreements with the president about America's treatment of both allies and strategic competitors came from beliefs that "are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues."

James Mattis, U.S. Secretary of Defense, right, and Patrick Shanahan, Deputy Secretary of Defense, wait outside the Pentagon before an event in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg via Getty Images

Before taking the No.2 spot in the Pentagon, Shanahan spent just over 30 years at one of the nation's top defense companies. People close to the former Boeing executive say his departure from the highest echelons of the corporate world was motivated by his father, a Vietnam War veteran and Bronze Star recipient.

And so, a little over a year ago, he left the aerospace giant, where he helped develop the 787 Dreamliner, and became the 33rd deputy secretary of Defense.

Like Shanahan, Esper, if confirmed by the Senate, may head the largest federal agency with limited experience in foreign policy. Esper, a former Raytheon executive, left the defense giant to become the 23rd secretary of the U.S. Army in 2017.

Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark Esper speaks at the Atlantic Council, Washington D.C., May 17, 2019.
U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia

Esper is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and served in the 1990-1991 Gulf War with the Army's 101st Airborne Division. Following active duty, Esper served in the Army Reserve and both the Virginia and District of Columbia National Guard before retiring in 2007.

Esper's ascension to the top spot in the Pentagon comes at a particularly tumultuous time. The Trump administration has pulled the United States back from global commitments and pushed forward on ambitious projects like the denuclearization of North Korea, a growing military footprint on the southwest border with Mexico and rising tensions with Iran and Venezuela.

Tucker Higgins contributed to this report from CNBC's global headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Kevin Breuninger contributed to this report.