President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Army abruptly withdrew his name from consideration late Friday night, citing his inability to get around strict Defense Department rules concerning his family businesses.
Vincent Viola, founder of digital stock trading firm Virtu Financial and owner of the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers, had been working through the confirmation process to become Army Secretary since mid-December.
In a statement, Viola said he was “deeply honored” to be nominated for the post, but concluded that he would not be able to successfully navigate the confirmation process.
“I appreciate the confidence President Trump showed in me,” he said. “I offer my continued support for President Trump and his administration, and look forward to redoubling my efforts to support the Army and its veterans as private citizens.”
Sources familiar said Viola had been looking for ways to divest from his businesses — including ownership of the hockey team — to take the top civilian Army post.
He had planned to transfer ownership to other family members but turn over operations responsibilities to the team’s vice chairman, but that arrangement did not meet Pentagon requirements, according to sources.
The surprise announcement leaves another hole in Trump’s Pentagon leadership team. While Defense Secretary James Mattis was confirmed by the Senate just hours after Trump was inaugurated, dozens of other key civilian military posts remain vacant or manned by temporary appointees.
Trump has nominated Heather Wilson to take over as Air Force Secretary and Philip Bilden to become Navy Secretary, but confirmation hearings have not been announced for either role.
Currently, Robert Speer is serving as acting Army secretary, a step up from his previous post as assistant secretary for financial management at the service.
The Army has only had a full-time secretary for a few months over the last two years. Army Secretary Eric Fanning was nominated to replace John McHugh in late 2015, but did not officially take over the job until May because of a lengthy confirmation fight with Congress. Deputy Army Secretary Patrick Murphy served in an acting role for more than four months.
Now it appears that Speer may serve a similar lengthy stint. Even if administration officials name a replace for Viola quickly, the confirmation process for many of Trump’s nominees has moved slowly through the Senate.
Viola is a 1977 West Point graduate who rose to the rank of major in the Army Reserve. The 60-year-old businessman is a former chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange and was serving in that role during the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
He helped found the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, a privately funded research wing of the school focused on “counterterrorism policy and strategy” and “ways to confront the dynamic threat environment” facing America today.
He has also been a donor to numerous Army charities and support networks, including the Army Cyber Institute, the Modern War Institute and Army athletic programs.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times.