Editor's note: An earlier version of this story focused on Arkansas Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin. It was updated to include information about three others who've been discussed for Army secretary.
WASHINGTON — At least four names have emerged as potential candidates for Army secretary since President Trump's initial nominee withdrew from consideration a month ago, Military Times has learned. Each has served in the Army and in Congress.
They are: former Rep. Chris Gibson of New York; Arkansas Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin; former Rep. Duncan L. Hunter of California; and Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois.
Reached Thursday, a White House official declined to address questions about the administration's search to replace Vincent Viola, the business mogul who walked away Feb. 3 citing financial conflicts. The official referred questions to the Pentagon. A spokesman for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also declined to discuss possible recommendations for the political appointment, saying it would be a private matter between Mattis and Trump.
It's an extremely sensitive issue. Trump has had a difficult time filling the military's service secretary jobs, a setback that is said to be a point of friction between Mattis and the White House while also raising concern on Capitol Hill. Viola's nomination reportedly caught Mattis by surprise when it was announced. This past Sunday, Trump's nominee to the lead the Navy and Marine Corps, businessman Philip Bilden, dropped out as well. And while he, too, explained the decision by citing financial conflicts, some in Congress had questioned Bilden's qualifications.
The president's selection for Air Force secretary is former Congresswoman Heather Wilson. Her nomination process appears to be proceeding unimpeded.
"I don’t have an exact time frame to share," the White House official said, "but we are moving as quickly as we can to fill these important posts."
Some background on the four men whose names have surfaced in the search for Trump's Army secretary:
Former Congressman Chris Gibson retired from the Army as a colonel in 2010.
Photo Credit: AP
A retired colonel who spent six years in Congress, Gibson left Washington last year, saying he intends to spend more time with family. His Army career ended in 2010 after a string of impressive assignments, including as commander of the 82nd Airborne's 2nd Battalion, 325th Infantry Regiment. He led the unit through two tours in Iraq between 2004 and 2006.
Like Mattis, Gibson is a scholar soldier. He holds a doctorate in government from Cornell University and two master's degrees. He also was a fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he authored a comprehensive studytitled "The Path Ahead in Iraq." In the notes of that paper, Gibson thanked one of his influences, then-Col. H.R. McMaster, who is now a three-star general serving as Trump's national security adviser.
Then-Congressman Tim Griffin, an Arkansas Republican, walks to a polling place in Little Rock on Tuesday, May 6, 2014.
Photo Credit: Danny Johnston/AP
Arkansas' lieutenant governor spent four years in Congress and was a member of the House Armed Services Committee. Griffin is still serving in the Army Reserve as a judge advocate. He holds the rank of lieutenant colonel, having deployed to Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. Before being elected to Congress, he was a special assistant to President George W. Bush.
As reported Thursday by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Griffin was approached by the White House in early February. He traveled to Washington for interviews, the newspaper reported, and appears to have an advocate in Sen. Tom Cotton, who served as an Army infantry officer for five years and now sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Former Rep. Duncan L. Hunter served in the Army during the Vietnam War.
Photo Credit: AP
Duncan L. Hunter.
Hunter served in Congress from 1981 until 2009, chairing the House Armed Services Committee. He was an Army officer during the Vietnam War, seeing regular combat while serving in the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the 75th Ranger Regiment, according to congressional records. In 2008, he launched an unsuccessful bid for the presidency.
Hunter's son Duncan D. Hunter won his father's congressional seat. He's a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq with the Marines. And as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, he has badgered Army leadership for years, criticizing the speed at which they've fielded advanced battlefield technologyand their handling of sensitive personnel matters, including the effort to prosecute an Afghanistan war veteran.
Congress John Shimkus of Illinois served 28 years in the Army, mostly in the Reserve, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2008.
Shimkus is a West Point graduate who served 28 years in the Army, mostly in the Reserve. He retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2008, according to his bio. He's a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and has been focused on issues related to public safety.
Though Shimkus does not sit on any armed services panels, he has been gotten involved with local issues affecting the Illinois National Guard. And last summer he traveled to South Korea, meeting with military commanders on the front lines of Washington's long-simmering standoff with Pyongyang.
The eventual decision will be important for several reasons. Mattis reportedly has been frustrated by the administration's reluctance to give him greater leeway to bring in his own people. After Viola and Bilden each dropped out, the defense secretary quickly signaled that he would be the one to suggest their replacements.
The vacancies also are a concern on Capitol Hill. Some Republican lawmakers are worried that, with the administration slow to fill these appointments and several others in the Defense Department, there's a risk the president's ambitious plans to boost military spending will stall. Those plans have broad support within the Republican-controlled Congress.
For now, each of military's three service departments is being overseen by interim personnel. The acting Army secretary is Robert Speer. His background is in financial management. Sean Stackley, who's been focused for the last several years on technology research and acquisition, is filling in atop the Navy Department, which includes the Marine Corps. Lisa Disbrow is acting Air Force secretary. Since 2014, she has overseen the service's finances.
Andrew deGrandpre is Military Times' senior editor and Pentagon bureau chief. On Twitter: @adegrandpre.
Leo Shane III is Military Times' senior reporter covering Congress. On Twitter:
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.