Shanahan's Pentagon rise upended by painful family past

Susan STUMME
Patrick Shanahan, whom President Donald Trump has picked to become Secretary of Defense

Patrick Shanahan -- a onetime Boeing engineer who spent the last two years at the Pentagon -- seemed set to lead the world's most powerful military, until a history of violent incidents in his family derailed his plans.

The 56-year-old Shanahan stepped down as acting defense secretary on Tuesday and withdrew his name from consideration to permanently fill the post to protect his children's "safety and well-being."

It was a surprising end to Shanahan's quick rise to the top spot at the Department of Defense in just two years.

At issue are two incidents: a 2010 altercation between Shanahan and his then-wife Kimberley at their home in Seattle that left him with a bloody nose and her in custody -- amid claims that he also hit her.

The second involves his son, who was arrested as a teen after brutally hitting his mother with a baseball bat in 2011, Shanahan himself revealed in an interview with The Washington Post.

"Bad things can happen to good families... and this is a tragedy, really," Shanahan told the newspaper in interviews conducted late Monday and Tuesday.

- Mr Fix-It -

Before joining the Pentagon, Shanahan -- an engineer by training -- spent 30 years at Boeing, holding management roles on multiple commercial jet programs as well as on missile defense systems.

The MIT graduate earned the nickname "Mr Fix-It" for having put the problem-saddled 787 Dreamliner program back on track.

Shanahan later was responsible for all US Army aviation programs with the aerospace giant -- experience that undoubtedly helped smooth his way into government service.

In mid-2017, then Pentagon chief Jim Mattis tapped Shanahan to help modernize the Pentagon's procedures for its trillion-dollar acquisition program.

But Shanahan quickly drew criticism that he had violated ethics rules with his support for Boeing as a Pentagon supplier while denigrating its competitors, notably Lockheed Martin.

Once he was cleared of those allegations, and Mattis stepped down as Pentagon chief at the end of last year, President Donald Trump gave the nod to the business-savvy Shanahan.

Since taking over as acting defense secretary on January 1, Shanahan had maintained a low profile, notably avoiding clashes with the mercurial commander-in-chief.

He went along with Trump's demand for more Pentagon resources to help police the US border with Mexico, and to divert billions of dollars in the budget to finance building a wall on the frontier.

Yet that put Shanahan in the line of fire on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers were none too happy about the diversion of Pentagon funds, which could impact other military construction projects.

With his nomination pending before the Senate, and amid questions about his lack of soldiering experience, the divorced father of three ended the process, as details of his family's past travails re-emerged.

- 'Painful and deeply personal' -

The FBI's background check unearthed the troubling incidents in his family life, including the 2010 fight with his then-wife.

Kimberley Jordinson, as she is now known, maintains that Shanahan punched her, according to USA Today. But he says he "never laid a hand" on her, and that her blow to his face had him "seeing stars."

Jordinson was charged with assault -- but Shanahan says he dropped the charges to protect the family.

It appears that lawmakers were not fully aware of the incident when Shanahan was confirmed as deputy secretary of defense, and it could have become an issue at his confirmation hearing.

The following year, a fight between his then 17-year-old son William and Jordinson left her unconscious in a pool of blood, the Post reported, citing court records. Her skull was fractured.

Shanahan told the Post he wrote a memo saying his son had acted in self-defense, but later admitted he had written it before he knew how badly injured his ex-wife was, and that it was to prepare for court.

"I don't believe violence is appropriate ever, and certainly never any justification for attacking someone with a baseball bat," he said.

William Shanahan was eventually charged as an adult with aggravated battery, a felony.

He pleaded down to a lesser offense, and was sentenced to 18 months at a youth ranch for juvenile delinquents and four years' probation -- both eventually shortened.

On Tuesday, Shanahan said he was withdrawing from the confirmation process as reliving the "painful and deeply personal family situation from long ago" was too much for his children.

"Ultimately, their safety and well-being is my highest priority," he said.