The United States Naval Institute News service was the first to report that President Trump would appoint financier Philip Bilden to be nominated for Secretary of the Navy. USNI News was among the last to report Philip Bilden would drop out.
Financier Philip Bilden has withdrawn himself from consideration to be the next Secretary of the Navy, he said in a Sunday statement.
In the statement, Bilden said he would be unable to meet the requirements of the Office of Government Ethics requirements for the position without “materially adverse divestment” of his family’s financial interests.
“I fully support the President’s agenda and the [Secretary of Defense James Mattis’] leadership to modernize and rebuild our Navy and Marine Corps, and I will continue to support their efforts outside of the Department of the Navy,” he said in the statement.
“However, after an extensive review process, I have determined that I will not be able to satisfy the Office of Government Ethics requirements without undue disruption and materially adverse divestment of my family’s private financial interests.”
In a Sunday statement, Mattis said the withdrawal “was a personal decision driven by privacy concerns and significant challenges he faced in separating himself from his business interests. While I am disappointed, I understand and his respect his decision, and know that he will continue to support our nation in other ways.”
Mattis also said, “in the coming days I will make a recommendation to President Trump for a leader who can guide our Navy and Marine Corps team as we execute the president’s vision to rebuild our military.”
Thanks to Major Garrett’s twitter account, this wasn’t exactly unexpected news. Basically, that was the moment the financial conflict of interest was discovered and it was only a matter of time before he withdrew his name from the nomination. Political activists, both on social media and the media, may try to make this into something it isn’t, but the bottom line is that it was going to be very difficult for Mr. Bilden to divest himself from the wealth the gentleman had accumulated over his career in International Finance in order to meet the government ethics requirements related to financial conflict of interest.
Having personally run into similar ethical requirements related to financial interests and working for government, it’s very hard for me to see this as a big deal. Someone like me who had a few thousand dollars invested in activities that created an ethical financial conflict has nothing in common with someone like Philip Bilden who likely had millions of dollars to deal with. Most people who comment on this stuff have never actually dealt with the issue.
In the end Philip Bilden’s nomination and subsequent withdrawal has everything to do with the process working as designed. Philip Bilden’s nomination came from the well attuned voices in both the Naval War College Foundation and the United States Naval Institute, both of which have very influential naval insiders who know the man as someone actively engaged and interested in naval affairs, and willing to put his money where those interests are. In that context though, it was unlikely Philip Bilden’s supporters saw any potential private financial conflicts of interest as ever being an issue that would prevent his appointmnet, so when credible people recommended him to the President, it isn’t hard to see President Trump appreciating the recommendation of an outsider with big name endorsements who General Mattis was also endorsing.
The Navy undoubtedly needs more people like Philip Bilden in their corner, but that can’t override how the government undoubtedly needs people who can get through the financial ethics requirements related to offshore investments, and that goes double for this administration. From everything I have seen and heard, Philip Bilden is a great American, but the government financial ethics requirements are not really flexible when it comes to people with global investments. This would be true for most of the wealthy stars super of Hollywood, like George Clooney or Angelina Jolie, who have extensive foreign investments likely disqualifying them from ever being Secretary of State, for example, just as it is true for Philip Bilden. Bottom line, in American government you are considered far more qualified if you blow trillions of dollars of taxpayer money on government garbage than if you have effectively earned and invested your own wealth resulting in a portfolio showing foreign holdings. Amusing how that requirement for government service is both logical and remarkably pathetic.
I look forward to seeing who General Mattis recommends for the new Secretary of the Navy. While Randy Forbes would have to be the top safe pick on everyone’s mind, I’m still hoping the President’s team throws the 102 mph fastball right over the strike zone and picks from among the top folks in the next generation who didn’t sign that War on the Rocks memo… folks like Mackenzie Eaglen, Jerry Hendrix, or Bryan Clark.