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Patrick Shanahan. Image Credit: AP

Washington: United States President Donald Trump on Tuesday pulled the nomination of Patrick M. Shanahan to be the permanent defence secretary, saying on Twitter that Shanahan would devote more time to his family.

The move leaves the Pentagon without a permanent leader at a time of escalating tensions with Iran after attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The Trump administration has blamed Iran for the explosions that damaged the two tankers.

Trump named Mark T. Esper, the secretary of the Army and a former Raytheon executive, to take over as acting secretary of defence. He did not say whether Esper would be nominated for the permanent position.

In a Twitter post, the president said the withdrawal was the decision of Shanahan, who has served for six months as acting defence secretary. But it is the president’s prerogative to withdraw the nomination.

“I would welcome the opportunity to be secretary of defence, but not at the expense of being a good father,” Shanahan said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.

At the Pentagon, officials were internally discussing that a routine FBI investigation for Cabinet nominees was dragging on for Shanahan because of his divorce, which included an allegation from his former wife — denied by Shanahan — that he punched her in the stomach. Shanahan said that his former wife had started the fight and his spokesman said that she was arrested and charged with domestic violence, charges that were eventually dropped.

According to court documents viewed by the New York Times, in 2011 Shanahan’s son, who was 17 at the time, hit his mother repeatedly with a baseball bat, and she was hospitalised.

In an interview with the Washington Post published on Tuesday, Shanahan said that “bad things can happen to good families”. He called the episode “a tragedy”, and said that dredging it up publicly “will ruin my son’s life”.

During his tenure, Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, was criticised for slighting Lockheed Martin, Boeing’s chief competitor, for its mismanagement of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — an aircraft that is years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget.

He was widely viewed as acquiescing to the White House and other government officials, including John Bolton, the national security adviser, and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state. Shanahan famously said that the Pentagon would not be viewed as the “Department of No”.

Trump’s decision not to move ahead with Shanahan is the latest evidence of the difficulty that the president has had in permanently filling the top jobs in his administration.

The president also has an acting chief-of-staff at the White House and an acting secretary of homeland security.