John Rood, the Pentagon’s top policy official, resigned on Wednesday at the behest of the White House, the latest high-profile departure from the Defense Department and one that raised more questions about Trump’s efforts to penalize officials who did not shield him during his impeachment.
“It is my understanding from [Defense] Secretary [Mark] Esper that you requested my resignation from serving as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy,” Rood wrote in a letter addressed to President Donald Trump. “Senior administration officials appointed by the President serve at the pleasure of the President, and therefore, as you have requested, I am providing my resignation effective Feb. 28.”
Rood departs at a critical moment, both administratively and politically. The White House delivered its budget to Congress last week, and the policy undersecretary would typically shepherd the request on the Hill. His forced resignation also comes as Trump has publicly called for his perceived opponents to be punished.
Critics were swift to accuse Trump of retaliating against Rood for his role in the Ukraine affair. In May, Rood certified that Ukraine had made sufficient progress in anti-corruption efforts for the aid to be released, belying later attempts by Trump officials and allies to claim that the president had withheld the aid over corruption concerns.
But Rood was also a deeply unpopular figure in some corners of the White House and the Pentagon, according to multiple current and former officials who worked with him. Critics within government have accused him of slow-rolling the president’s policies, separately from his role in the Ukraine affair.
“I would like to thank John Rood for his service to our Country, and wish him well in his future endeavors!” Trump tweeted, confirming the resignation.
The letter “speaks for itself,” top Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said during a press briefing on Wednesday morning, calling questions about whether Rood was fired over the Ukraine aid “speculative.”
“I have no information to lead me to that conclusion,” Hoffman said. “The President can make a decision to go in a different direction.”
Rood, a former Lockheed Martin official and government veteran, was confirmed by the Senate in 2018.
The current acting deputy undersecretary for policy, James Anderson, will take over as the acting undersecretary until a replacement is chosen and confirmed.