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Retired general appointed to Trump administration in position that won’t require confirmation

A Senate committee canceled a confirmation hearing Thursday for retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata’s nomination to a top Pentagon post after a furor over inflammatory comments he made. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

A retired Army general whose controversial nomination for a senior civilian position at the Pentagon was put on hold last week has withdrawn from consideration and will instead take an appointment that does not require Senate approval.

Anthony J. Tata withdrew his name from consideration for undersecretary of defense for policy, after the Senate Armed Services Committee canceled his confirmation hearing on Thursday amid signs that he did not have enough votes to be confirmed. He instead has been tapped as the official performing the duties of the deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, a temporary position that does not require Senate confirmation.

“He looks forward to continuing to help implement the President’s National Security agenda,” the Pentagon said in a statement Sunday confirming the appointment.

Tata’s nomination was controversial following statements he made that included calling former president Barack Obama a “terrorist leader,” suggesting that former CIA director John Brennan should prepare for execution or suck “on a pistol,” and saying that Islam is the “most oppressive violent religion I know of.” His comments that came under scrutiny included both tweets and things he said as a national security analyst in interviews.

Tata retired as a brigadier general in 2009 under a cloud after the Army inspector general found that he had at least two extramarital affairs, despite adultery being a crime in the military.

President Trump had pressed Senate Republicans to hold a hearing for Tata, 60, who frequently appeared on conservative media outlets as an analyst. But some senators — including those facing reelection this fall — raised concerns about him as the hearing closed in.

Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, once a person is nominated to fill a position on a permanent basis, the president may not appoint him or her to fill that same position on a temporary basis. In Tata’s case, his new position falls just below the undersecretary position for which he originally was nominated.

The disclosure of Tata’s new position brought an immediate condemnation from Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

“If an appointee cannot gain the support of the Senate, as is clearly the case with Tata, then the president should not put that person into an identical temporary role,” Smith said. “This evasion of scrutiny makes our government less accountable and prioritizes loyalty over competence.”

Smith added that vacant positions in the Defense Department have hit a record high under Trump, limiting the Pentagon’s ability to fulfill its duties and missions, and posing a “threat to our national security.”

Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, condemned the appointment as “an insult to our troops, professionals at the Pentagon, the Senate, and the American people.”

“This is a flagrant end run around the confirmation process,” Reed said. “The situation is symptomatic of a President who is unraveling and continues to lash out.”