WASHINGTON — Army secretary nominee Mark Green could withdraw his name from consideration from the Pentagon post as early as this week, according to sources speaking to CNN.
If true, the news represents the latest major setback for President Donald Trump's efforts to staff his Defense Department.
Darren Morris, a political adviser to Green, denied the reports when contacted by Military Times, saying "there's no truth to the rumors at all."
He said on Tuesday that he doesn't know where the rumors came from, but that it could be the same people who have previously attacked Green, adding that it could be wishful thinking on their part that he'd be withdrawing.
"[Green] is in Washington right now meeting with senators preparing for his confirmation hearing," Morris said.
The White House did not immediately respond to questions from Military Times.
Green would be the second nominee this year to step away from the Army Secretary post before a Senate confirmation hearing was scheduled. In February, billionaire veteran Vincent Viola dropped out of the process, citing numerous conflicts of interest with his family businesses.
And just weeks after Viola's withdrawal, Trump's pick for Navy Secretary — financier Philip Bilden — also dropped out of consideration, citing similar business conflicts.
Reports of Green's withdrawal comes amid scrutiny over his past comments on homosexuality and transgender rights connected to his work as a Tennessee state senator.
LGBT advocates called out Green for pushing for a Tennessee law to circumvent local government policies against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and for being a vocal critic of rules allowing transgender individuals to use public restrooms of their choosing.
He also once asserted that psychologists view transgender individual as diseased and has questioned whether evolution is a sound scientific theory.
On Tuesday, officials from the gay rights advocacy group OutServe-SLDN called Green's nomination "a grenade in the tent" and said his "anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, anti-women record in the Tennessee legislature stands in stark contrast to the American values of justice, fairness and tolerance we all hold dear."
Morris, Green's political adviser, said a lot of the attacks are "misquoted or out of line," adding that Green believes anyone should be able to serve in the military regardless of their sexual orientation or religious beliefs.
Also on Tuesday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., told USA Today that "There’s a lot of controversy concerning (Green's) nomination," and that "there are some issues that clearly need to be cleared up."
Green is best known as the special operations soldier who interviewed former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein after his capture by American forces in 2003. The 1986 West Point graduate has been a state lawmaker since 2012 and for the last seven years has served as founder and CEO of Align MD, an emergency department staffing company.
He’s an Army Ranger who holds a medical degree from Wright State University and a Master’s Certificate in information systems from University of Southern California. The Army retiree is also active in a pair of military focused charities — Soldiers and Families Embraced and Reboot for Recovery — as well as the middle Tennessee chapter of the Boy Scouts of America.
Green’s sudden departure would leave the Army without a permanent civilian head likely into the fall, given the slow pace of nominations coming from the White House. Robert Speer has served as acting secretary since January, when President Donald Trump dismissed former Army Secretary Eric Fanning.
A confirmation vote for Air Force Secretary nominee Heather Wilson has been stalled in the Senate for weeks. A replacement for Bilden to lead the Navy has not yet been announced.
In the meantime, Trump has outlined a bold and controversial build-up of military might in his budget proposals, but has left the detail work of those plans to the interim officials.
Ahead of the news about Green, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, repeated his concerns over the administration’s slow pace filling top Pentagon jobs, saying that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis "cannot do everything single handedly, and there are several crises in the world he has to manage."
"I continue to be concerned that without Senate-confirmed decision makers, the Pentagon tends to march in the direction it’s been marching in, and that doesn’t solve our readiness problems," he said.
McCain he has "great concerns about the team around Mattis" and "the snail’s pace (for nominees) we are now at is really very unfortunate."
Reporters Charlsy Panzino, Joe Gould and Meghann Myers contributed to this story.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.