Trump's Pentagon pick is Army veteran, defense lobbyist

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's pick for new defense secretary is an Army veteran who served in the first Iraq war and also has experience as a national security adviser on Capitol Hill as well as a defense industry lobbyist.

Trump announced Friday that he would nominate Mark Esper to lead the Pentagon. Trump had already named Esper, his current Army secretary, to lead the Defense Department on an acting basis, starting Sunday.

"I know Mark, and have no doubt he will do a fantastic job!" the president tweeted Tuesday.

He later told reporters: "He's very experienced. He's been around all of the things that we've been talking about for a very long period of time."

Tuesday's move came after acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan withdrew from the job before his formal nomination had gone to the Senate, citing a "painful" family situation that would hurt his children and reopen "wounds we have worked years to heal."

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Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan
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Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan speaks to members of the news media after a classified briefing for members of Congress on Iran, Tuesday, May 21, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, left, speaks with troops near McAllen, Texas, about the military’s role in support of the Department of Homeland Security’s effort to secure the Southwest border. At right is Kevin McAleenan, acting DHS secretary. (AP Photo/Robert Burns)
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan listens, Wednesday May 1, 2019, during a House Appropriations subcommittee on budget hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
El secretario de Defensa interino Patrick Shanahan habla con la prensa en el Pentágono, Washington, 19 de abril de 2019. (AP Foto/Patrick Semansky)
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan speaks as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens on Friday, April 19, 2019, at the Department of State in Washington. (AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz)
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan appears before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington , Thursday, April 11, 2019, on the proposed Space Force. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump, second from right, flanked by acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, second from left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, right, speaks during a meeting with military leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 3, 2019. At left is Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, left, talks with International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Director-General and Chief Executive John Chipman ahead of the first plenary session of the 18th IISS Shangri-la Dialogue, an annual defense and security forum in Asia, in Singapore, Saturday, June 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Yong Teck Lim)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, shakes hands with U.S. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan prior to their meeting in Tokyo, Tuesday, June 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, Pool)
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Esper was sworn in as Army secretary in November 2017 following a seven-year stint as vice president for government relations at defense contractor Raytheon. That lobbyist background raised immediate alarms from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which said that Raytheon had recently won multiple government contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

"While Esper may not have had sway over these types of deals as Secretary of the Army, as acting Secretary of Defense he will have potential influence over such deals," as well as a proposed merger between Raytheon and United Technologies Corp., CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement.

Esper previously served a national security adviser for former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

He was policy director for the House Armed Services Committee and a professional staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations committee and also advised former Obama administration Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel when Hagel was in the Senate.

He's also served as a deputy assistant secretary of defense and was a war planner on the Army staff.

Esper spent more than a decade in the Army, including serving in the Persian Gulf War in 1990 and 1991 with the 101st Airborne Division. He has won the Bronze Star Medal and other awards.

"He has a great background. I know him and I think he'll do very well in the acting role," said Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., a close Trump ally who speaks frequently with the president.

It is not clear whether Esper's defense industry background might complicate any confirmation prospects.

Shanahan, for instance, came under scrutiny because of his prior career as a Boeing executive and persistent questions about possible conflicts of interest.

The Defense Department's Inspector General cleared Shanahan of any wrongdoing in connection with accusations he had shown favoritism toward Boeing during his time as deputy defense secretary, while disparaging Boeing competitors.

But even so, Bookbinder said Shanahan's past work at Boeing overshadowed his decisions at the Defense Department.

"His successor will likewise risk being tainted by his previous work for a major defense contractor," Bookbinder said.

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Associated Press writer Lolita Baldor contributed to this report.

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