Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is citing a "painful" family situation as he steps down from the position before his formal nomination has even been sent to the Senate.
President Donald Trump announced Shanahan's departure in a tweet, and said Army Secretary Mark Esper would be the new acting Pentagon chief.
Shanahan says he believes "continuing in the confirmation process would force my three children to relive a traumatic chapter in our family's life." He is not providing specifics, but court records show a volatile family history around the time of his 2011 divorce.
His withdrawal from one of the most critical roles in the government comes at a time of escalating tensions in the Middle East.
Top Senate Democrats say Patrick Shanahan's sudden withdrawal Tuesday from consideration as defense secretary shows the shortcomings of White House vetting for key Trump administration jobs.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer says "this Shanahan fiasco shows what a shambles, what a mess" the administration's national security policy is.
Senators say they were largely unaware of allegations around Shanahan's family situation when he was confirmed as deputy defense secretary in 2017.
Republican Lindsey Graham says he had heard "rumors" of potential problems.
Democrat Richard Blumenthal is raising the possibility of "deliberate concealment" of Shanahan's past. He is calling for an investigation by the Defense Department's inspector general.
Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe of Oklahoma is defending the vetting process. He says Trump called him shortly before publicly announcing Shanahan's withdrawal.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan says he stepped down before his formal nomination ever went to the Senate over a "painful" family situation that would hurt his children and reopen "wounds we have worked years to heal."
President Donald Trump announced Shanahan's departure in a tweet, and said that Army Secretary Mark Esper would be the new acting Pentagon chief.
"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," Shanahan said in a statement. "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."
He provided no other details.
President Donald Trump says Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan is withdrawing his nomination.
Trump tweeted Tuesday that Shanahan had done "a wonderful job" but would step aside to "devote more time to his family."
The president added that the Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, will be the new acting secretary.
The post atop the Pentagon has not been filled permanently since Gen. James Mattis retired in January.