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Top Pentagon Policy Official Who Warned About Ukraine Aid Pushed Out by Trump

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Top Pentagon Policy Official Who Warned About Ukraine Aid Pushed Out by Trump

2020-02-21 12:10:251 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: John Rood (Image source: Public domain)

Donald Trump is continuing to clean house after he was acquitted in his Senate impeachment trial. In a week that saw him grant clemency and pardons to 11 people who were doing hard time, he pushed out another career defense official from his administration.

Trump asked for and received the resignation of John Rood, the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy at the Pentagon. He had warned against withholding military aid to Ukraine last year after the president spoke on the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and asked him to conduct investigations of his political rivals, implying that he would be rewarded with military aid and a White House visit. 

Rood was previously the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security in former President George W. Bush's administration and also worked for the CIA as an analyst and as an adviser for former Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ). He also held senior positions with Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. He was nominated by Trump to be the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy on October 16, 2017.

"It is my understanding from Secretary Esper that you requested my resignation from serving as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. Senior administration officials appointed by the president serve at the pleasure of the president, and therefore, as you have requested, I am providing my resignation effective February 28, 2020," Rood wrote in a Wednesday letter to Trump. 

CNN was first to report on Rood's forced resignation, and Trump later confirmed it in a tweet.

"I would like to thank John Rood for his service to our country and wish him well in his future endeavors!" the president wrote, sharing a Bloomberg News story that said Rood "faced pressure to resign from some who lost confidence in his ability to carry out Trump agenda." 

Alysa Farah, Defense Department press secretary, said in a statement, "Dr. James Anderson, the current senior official performing the duties of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy will take over the responsibilities of Undersecretary Rood until a permanent replacement is appointed by the president and confirmed."

Two officials familiar with the matter told CNN they believe the Ukraine scandal was a factor in Rood being pushed out. Another official said they believe there were multiple issues. Rood had differed with the administration on multiple issues, including Afghanistan as well as Ukraine. He was often perceived as not embracing some of the policy changes wanted by the White House and Pentagon officials. 

One official gave some examples of Rood's differing views, including being skeptical about peace talks with the Taliban as former national security adviser John Bolton was as well, and he was also pushed out by Trump. Rood was also skeptical about scaling down military exercises with South Korea during Trump's talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and wanted to see more support for Ukraine as a more aggressive approach with Russia.

He oversaw aspects of the Pentagon's relationship with allies and partners and was involved in certifying to Congress that Ukraine had taken on significant reforms to justify the military assistance. That certification undermined one of the justifications, the concerns of corruption, that the Trump administration gave to explain withholding the aid. 

Just hours after Trump's call with Zelensky, Rood emailed Secretary of Defense Mark Esper who was still a newbie, having only been on the job two days. He told him about an upcoming deputies meeting "to discuss the president's concern about endemic corruption in Ukraine and his reported view that US should cease providing security assistance," according to emails that CNN reviewed.

He pointed out in his email that "placing a hold on security assistance at this time would jeopardize this unique window of opportunity and undermine our defense priorities with a key partner in the strategic competition with Russia." 

Assistance to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Jonathan Hoffman responded to a question about a possible link between Rood's resignation and his role in the Ukraine scandal by saying it "sounds speculative," adding, "I have no information that would lead me to that conclusion."

Within days of being acquitted in his Senate impeachment trial that charged him with abuse of power and obstruction directly because of his involvement in the Ukraine scandal, Trump fired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert at the National Security Council, and U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. Vindman was reassigned to another Pentagon position. 

At the time, a Trump adviser said the two major impeachment witnesses being fired was meant to send a message that siding against the president would not be tolerated. "Flushing out the pipes," the adviser told CNN. "It was necessary."

"I would like to thank John Rood for his service to the Department," said Esper in a Wednesday statement. "John has played a critical role on a wide range of DoD issues, including modernizing our nuclear deterrence capability, efforts to increase burden sharing by our NATO allies, our Missile Defense Review, and implementing the National Defense Strategy. I wish him all the best in his future endeavors." 

There have been several other Defense Department senior officials to leave recently. This was after former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis left in December 2018 when he and Trump could no longer get along.

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