Trump Ousts Pentagon Policy Chief Linked to Ukraine-Aid Saga

Jennifer Jacobs, Jordan Fabian and Tony Capaccio

(Bloomberg) -- A top Defense Department official who advised against cutting off U.S. military aid to Ukraine has resigned after President Donald Trump asked for his departure.

John Rood, the under secretary of defense for policy, said in a letter to the president dated Wednesday that he’ll step down Feb. 28 “as you requested.” Rood, who had been in his post since January 2018, didn’t say why the president sought his ouster.

“It’s my understanding from Secretary Esper that you requested my resignation from serving as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy,” Rood said in his letter, which was confirmed by Pentagon officials. “I leave with the utmost admiration for the outstanding team with which I worked at the Defense Department.”

Some senior national security officials had lost confidence in Rood’s ability to carry out Trump’s agenda, according to multiple officials who asked not to be identified discussing a personnel matter.

Rood drew attention because he was the official who certified in May to Congress that Ukraine was eligible to receive $250 million in security assistance. That aid was later temporarily blocked by the White House, a decision at the center of Trump’s impeachment.

The president had recently asked some associates whether Rood should be released, according to a person familiar with the matter. Trump wished Rood well in a tweet.

CNN reported earlier this month that Rood warned Defense Secretary Mark Esper against withholding military aid to Ukraine in an email on July 25, the same day Trump asked the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in a phone call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

Trump was acquitted by the Senate earlier this month of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress over his pressure campaign on Ukraine.

After the trial ended, Trump quickly moved to oust some members of his administration who testified in the House impeachment inquiry, including Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman from the White House National Security Council and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.

Rood will be replaced by deputy under secretary James Anderson until a permanent replacement is named, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters. The post is one of the most important at the Pentagon, managing the office that translates and implements policy set by senior defense civilian leaders. The office uses as its benchmark National Security Strategies published by incoming administrations and companion National Defense Strategies issued by the Pentagon.

Despite a decade in the private sector, some of Trump’s associates considered Rood a bureaucrat who would delay execution of the president’s policies. Trump likes his directives to be implemented rapidly and national security aides believed Rood never fully agreed with the president’s positions, according to two people familiar with the situation.

One Republican national security official who asked not to be named said some of Rood’s colleagues disliked his performance as a leader. During Rood’s tenure, several other people in the Pentagon’s policy shop departed. In July, Rood’s deputy, David Trachtenberg, resigned after less than two years. The departure of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver was announced in December. He had been in the role since January 2018.

Rood joined the department after having served as a vice president at Lockheed Martin Corp. He previously had worked in a variety of government agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council and as a Senate staff member and adviser to former Senator Jon Kyl, a Republican from Arizona.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jennifer Jacobs in Washington at jjacobs68@bloomberg.net;Jordan Fabian in Washington at jfabian6@bloomberg.net;Tony Capaccio in Washington at acapaccio@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net, Bill Faries

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