Why did Philip Bilden, Trump's pick for Navy secretary, withdraw?

Government conflict-of-interest rules forced the private equity executive to bow out of consideration for the post.

Lenny Ignelzi/AP/File
The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson sails out of San Diego Harbor leaving for a nine month deployment, in 2014.

Philip Bilden, President Trump's choice for secretary of the Navy, has withdrawn from consideration, the businessman announced Sunday. 

Mr. Bilden, a former intelligence officer in the US Army Reserve who recently retired from a 25-year career with private equity firm HarbourVest Partners, cited concerns about privacy and separating himself from his business interests. 

"I fully support the President's agenda and the Secretary's leadership to modernize and rebuild our Navy and Marine Corps, and I will continue to support their efforts outside of the Department of the Navy," said Mr. Bilden in a statement released by the Pentagon. "However, after an extensive review process, I have determined that I will not be able to satisfy the Office of Government Ethics requirements without undue disruption and materially adverse divestment of my family's private financial interests."

The announcement came roughly a week after the Pentagon issued a statement on Feb. 19 saying Bilden had assured Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis that he remained committed to serving as Navy secretary and that Mr. Mattis had confidence that Bilden was "the right leader" for the position. CBS News had reported the day prior that Bilden was likely to withdraw his nomination, a report that White House press secretary Sean Spicer also dismissed on Twitter

Mattis on Sunday described Bilden's decision as disappointing but understandable, explaining that it was "driven by privacy concerns and significant challenges he faced in separating himself from his business interests," as reported by The New York Times.

In the "coming days," Mattis said, he will make a recommendation to Trump "for a leader who can guide our Navy and Marine Corps team as we execute the president's vision to rebuild our military." 

In bowing out, Bilden became the second Trump nominee to lead one of the armed forces to withdraw due to conflict-of-interest rules. Earlier this month, Mr. Trump's pick for secretary of the Army, billionaire Wall Street trader Vincent Viola, withdrew his name from consideration, as The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time: 

Having held the rank of major in the Army Reserves and financially supported counterterrorism research at West Point after 9/11, Viola would have brought no small amount of experience to the post. But by stepping down, he avoided the kind of ethical conflicts faced by several of Trump's nominees shifting from the private to the government sector....

Viola’s nomination process demonstrated how massive assets can create tough-to-resolve conflicts of interest. 

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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