Another One of Trump’s Rich Military Picks Drops Out Over Business Ties

The U.S. Navy

The President’s pick for secretary of the Navy, Philip Bilden, announced that he would withdraw his name from the nomination as he is unwilling to severe his business ties for the sake of the position. Earlier this month, the President’s choice for Secretary of the Army, billionaire Vincent Viola, renounced nomination for the same reason.


Former military intelligence officer Philip Bilden
Former military intelligence officer Philip M. Bilden

Bilden, who served as intelligence officer in the US Army Reserve, unveiled his decision on Sunday. The businessman worked about 25 years with a private equity firm but he retired recently. He said he had privacy concerns and doubts that he could completely separate himself from his family’s financial interests.

According to the Pentagon, Bilden said he fully supported the President’s plan to rebuild and equip the Marine Corps and Navy but he plans to do it outside of the Navy Department. Bilden disclosed that he undergone an “extensive review process” before he made the decision.

He acknowledged that he would not be able to pass the Office of Government Ethics’ tests without disrupting his business ties and hurting severely his family’s financial interests.

On Feb. 19, the Defense Department announced that Bilden had assured its top-ranking officials that he planned to serve as Navy secretary under the new administration. In response, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis had described the nominee as “the right leader” for the job.

Moroever, White House’s spokesman Sean spicer had confirmed a day prior that Bilden was committed to serving.

Spicer made the announcement amid rumors that the businessman was likely to withdraw his name from consideration.

On Sunday, Gen. Mattis called the decision “disappointing” but he added that he understands that the private concerns and the looming financial challenges were enough reasons to discourage the former intelligence leader from accepting the position.

Mattis added that he would propose another nominee “in the coming days.” The retired general explained that the new pick would help the president and his team turn Trump’s “vision to rebuild our military” into reality.

Biden is the president’s second pick for an armed forces position to say no because of possible conflicts of interest. A few weeks ago, another Trump nominee with deep ties to the private sector, Vincent Viola, withdrew due to possible ethical conflicts that could have surfaced if he had transitioned from the private to the government sector.

The new administration had touted Viola as the perfect man for the for the position of Secretary of the Army due to his long career as major in the Army Reserves and his sustained efforts to sponsor counterterrorism at the United States Military Academy after the 9/11 attacks.

Viola’s confirmation process proved how entrepreneurship can generate tough-to-fix conflicts of interest. Viola owns a major stake in the Eastern Air Lines and Virtu Financial and owns the Florida Panthers hockey club. Earlier this month, he planned to trade his stake in the Miami-based airline for a stake in Swift Air. The latter airliner is known to run government subcontracts, which could have put Viola in the hot seat over the financial benefits he may get from federal contracts.

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