Shanahan gets traditional Pentagon send-off as Esper prepares for baptism under fire

Shanahan gets traditional Pentagon send-off as Esper prepares for baptism under fire

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Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, back to camera, fist-bumps a Pentagon colleague as he formerly exits the Pentagon Friday. With him is Army Secretary Mark Esper, who is to become the acting defense secretary on Monday. (Tom Squitieri/TMN)

WASHINGTON — Patrick Shanahan received the traditional defense secretary departure ceremony at the Pentagon Friday afternoon, exiting to lines of clapping workers and military officers as he walked down the main entrance of the building facing the national monuments across the Potomac River.

The ceremony is known as the “clap-off,” a honor salute reserved for senior Pentagon officials and military dignitaries. Well-wishers gathered in the hallway and steps leading from the defense secretary’s office on the second floor of the Pentagon, through the secure ext hallway and down the concrete steps to the two cars waiting for Shanahan.

He shook hands as he left, escorted by Mark Esper, the Army secretary who will become acting defense secretary at 12:01 a.m. EDT Monday, and Gen. Mark Milley, slated to be the next chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Shanahan became acting defense secretary on Jan. 1, elevated from his position of deputy defense secretary when James Mattis resigned from the post. Mattis eschewed the clap off since Trump told him to leave after he resigned.

When his stint officially ends Sunday at midnight, Shanahan will have served 174 days — the longest by far of any acting defense secretary.

President Donald Trump said in May that he would nominate Shanahan for the full job but the nomination was never sent to the Senate. A FBI background look into Shanahan shed light on two domestic violence incidents involving Shanahan and his then- wife, and then the wife and one of their children.

On Tuesday, Shanahan told Trump he was withdrawing from consideration and would resign as deputy defense secretary.

“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,” Shanahan said in a statement.

Before leaving on Friday, Shanahan made rounds at the Pentagon to thank individuals, including a brief off-the-record stop in the press room.

One of his final acts was to watch the official portrait of Mattis being placed on the Secretary of Defense wall in the Pentagon.

Left behind is an escalating crisis with Iran, a restive U.S.-Mexico border, uncertainty in Venezuela and increased Chinese swagger in the South China Sea, and getting a 2020 defense budget, among other issues.

Esper was confirmed as Army secretary by the Senate 89-6 in the fall of 2017. He is a former Army Ranger and executive at the defense contractor Raytheon.

Trump announced Friday night that he will nominate him to be defense secretary.

Esper is expected to be formally greeted Monday at the Pentagon in a similar “clap in” arrival and plans to meet reporters later in the day. He plans to leave Tuesday for two days of meetings with NATO ministers in Brussels.

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