The Slatest

Defense Secretary Pick Withdraws as Report Shows He Called Son’s Baseball-Bat Attack on Mother “Self-Defense”

Shanahan speaks into a reporter's microphone while walking.
Patrick Shanahan outside the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, on March 18.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has withdrawn his nomination to lead the Defense Department in a permanent capacity. Minutes after Shanahan made this announcement, the Washington Post published excerpts from a document Shanahan wrote in 2011, in which he defended the conduct of his then–17-year-old son, William, after William Shanahan beat his mother, Kimberley—who was Patrick Shanahan’s ex-wife—with a baseball bat. The younger Shanahan was subsequently convicted of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

Here is the Post’s description of the incident, which took place in Florida in 2011 after a verbal argument between William Shanahan and his mother, who now goes by the name Kimberley Jordinson:

William, Sarasota police wrote, struck several blows to his mother’s head and torso and left her “to lie in a pool of blood” and then “unplugged the landline phone cord depriving the victim and [the younger brother] the use of 911 to render aid.”

Jordinson suffered a fractured skull and fractured elbow. At a court hearing days later, an attorney retained by Patrick Shanahan argued that keeping William Shanahan in jail would have an unfairly adverse impact on his baseball career:

“He’s a college baseball prospect. He has dreams. He has a future. His father is an executive of Boeing,” Byrd said, according to an audio recording that the court released to The Post. “If he has to sit in jail for 21 days, not only is that going to traumatize him, he’s not going to finish the semester, probably get kicked off the baseball team … everything is going to be over for him.”

The Shanahans’ divorce filing includes a memo Patrick Shanahan says he wrote immediately after he learned about the attack (but did not send until 10 days after the hearing), arguing that his son deserved lenience and that Jordinson had “fueled the situation.” (Confusingly, the memo was not sent until 14 days after the attack—to Jordinson’s brother, who now says that it goes to show that Shanahan “fully understands and is better equipped to deal with domestic violence than most people.”) From the Post:

First, Patrick Shanahan wrote, his 17-year-old son had “acted in self-defense.”

“She fueled the situation by berating him repeatedly in his room in a manner that escalated emotionally and physically,” he wrote.

The memo continues, alleging a history of substance abuse, emotional abuse and violent tendencies by Kimberley Shanahan. “Over the last 7+ years I have worked as much as possible, partially out of a desire to avoid inevitable conflicts with Kim,” Shanahan wrote. It casts his ex-wife as the instigator in conflicts with him and their children. “It appears that when I was not around to yell at, she started becoming intensely focused on berating, terrorizing and beat them down emotionally.”

Jordinson denied behaving abusively. In a present-day interview with the Post, Patrick Shanahan said he was “wrong to write those three sentences,” does not believe the attack constituted self-defense, and that there is “certainly never any justification for attacking someone with a baseball bat.”

After William Shanahan was convicted, he served a term at a “Sheriffs Youth Ranch.” In 2013, the Post says, he enrolled at the University of Washington, where his father was a regent and where his grandfather had served as university police chief.

The Post’s article also recounts an incident that took place in 2010, while the Shanahans were still married, in which Patrick Shanahan accused Jordinson of punching him, which she denies; Jordinson told police Shanahan had in fact punched her in the stomach during the confrontation, which he denies. USA Today has further details on that incident, after which police arrested Jordinson on suspicion of domestic violence in part because her “bloody forearm appeared consistent with her having attacked her husband.” The charges were later dropped.

The Trump administration has not had a congressionally confirmed secretary of defense since last December, when James Mattis resigned the position.