The withdrawal by Patrick Shanahan from consideration for the top Defense job has brought a rare moment of bipartisanship from the Senate — and likely a brief one, the Washington Post reports. Members of both parties publicly criticized the White House for not discovering issues of domestic violence in the now-former deputy secretary’s public record during his initial nomination to his vacated post in 2017.
When it comes to what to do about it, the bipartisanship evaporates, however:
Senators from both parties are asking why they did not have advance notice of the domestic violence incidents in Patrick Shanahan’s family that ended his bid to become President Trump’s permanent defense secretary, calling his nomination’s collapse the latest example of shoddy White House vetting. …
Most Democrats and Republicans said they were caught completely off guard by news of Shanahan’s withdrawal, which came amid reports that he was involved years ago in an altercation with his now former wife and then, following their divorce, rushed to defend their teenage son after he attacked his mother with a baseball bat. Shanahan denied his ex-wife’s claim that he himself struck her.
There was particular consternation among some senators that Congress was not apprised of the incidents by the administration, the FBI or Shanahan himself. As some lawmakers noted, a background check would have accompanied Shanahan’s nomination in 2017 to become the deputy defense secretary, a post he held until the departure of Trump’s first Pentagon chief, Jim Mattis, in December.
Objections from Lindsey Graham in particular raise the stakes for the White House. Not only is Graham a reliable supporter of Donald Trump on policy issues and the key man in getting his appointed judges confirmed as chair of the Judiciary Committee, he was on the Senate Armed Services Committee when Shanahan got approved on a 92-7 vote in 2017. Graham made it clear that he got blindsided by the derogatory information that emerged yesterday, although he’d prefer to move on from the episode:
“We need to do a better job. If they had the information they should share it,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a close ally of the president’s, said of the allegations surrounding Shanahan. Graham quickly added: “That’s over. I appreciate his service, but it’s now time to find somebody else.”
How did it get missed? The FBI would have had ample access to the information. The incidents of domestic violence became an issue in the Shanahan’ divorce, particularly the memo Shanahan wrote to defend his son’s assault on his mother. Did the FBI do an incompetent job on Shanahan’s background check? Or did the White House strike it from their report? The latter seems very unlikely, as it would have to mean they knew about the incidents and pushed Shanahan through anyway despite the obvious political risks. Trump told reporters yesterday that he’d only found out about it on Monday, and it’s tough to imagine that Shanahan was soooo valuable that Trump would have ignored the risks to still push him through the confirmation process and then run the risk a second time. Not impossible to imagine, mind you, but tough to imagine.
Questions such as that almost certainly mean that it’s not “over,” despite what Graham hopes. Senate Democrats want an investigation into how these incidents never got disclosed to the upper chamber or at least the Armed Services Committee during Shanahan’s initial confirmation process. Sen. Dick Blumenthal (D-CT) — who has less standing than most to complain about opacity in background claims — wants a DoD inspector general to investigate whether Shanahan committed a criminal act by withholding the information. The IG might independently decide to investigate regardless of Senate (in)action. One can easily imagine House Judiciary chair Jerrold Nadler adding this to his list of investigations to probe the FBI’s performance on background checks, even if one can easily imagine Graham refusing to do so.
At least everyone agrees on one point: this is an embarrassment on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, and it’s not the first one, either. Even with Republicans controlling the confirmation process the rest of Trump’s first term, expect his nominees to get a more skeptical approach, and expect the Senate to put more emphasis on vetting the FBI’s work on them in the future.