Ex-Hong Kong fund manager Philip Bilden withdraws from consideration as Trump’s navy secretary

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 February, 2017, 3:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 February, 2017, 10:22pm

Philip Bilden, a long-time Hong Kong private equity fund manager who was tapped by US President Donald Trump to be the next navy secretary, has pulled his name from consideration, the Pentagon said Sunday.

He becomes the second nominee to head a military service who has bowed out in recent weeks.

Defence Secretary Jim Mattis announced that Bilden, who had run the Hong Kong branch of the private equity firm Harbourvest Partners since 1996 before recently stepping down, withdrew his name in a decision “driven by privacy concerns and significant challenges he faced in separating himself from his business interests.”

“While I am disappointed, I understand and respect his decision, and know that he will continue to support our nation in other ways,” Mattis said in a statement.

The nomination of Bilden, a Republican donor, had garnered criticism given his lack of direct experience with Navy issues, although he served on the Naval Academy board and has also donated to the US Naval Institute.

In his own statement made public by the Pentagon, Bilden said he concluded that he would not be able to fulfil US ethics rules “without undue disruption and materially adverse divestment of my family’s private financial interests.”

The announcement comes just a week after the Pentagon issued a statement saying that Bilden, despite reports that he would pull out of the running for the job, was headed for a confirmation vote. In that February 19 statement, Mattis called the former intelligence officer in the Army Reserve “the right leader” for the high-profile Navy job. White House press secretary Sean Spicer also tweeted that the reports were “100 per cent not true.”

Bilden is the Trump administration’s second service secretary nominee to bow out over business matters. Earlier this month, billionaire businessman and veteran Vincent Viola withdrew from consideration to become Army secretary.

Other people nominated or considered for senior jobs in the Trump administration have pulled themselves from the running.

Mattis said he would recommend another Navy leader “in coming days.” Another person who has been eyed for the job is Republican former congressman J. Randy Forbes of Virginia.

Trump’s Navy secretary will be charged with following through on the president’s campaign promise to expand and modernise an ageing fleet, including surface ships and submarines. Trump has vowed the largest naval buildup since the cold war, from the current fleet of 274 ships to 350 ships.

With Viola and Bilden withdrawing their names, the Pentagon is left with only one service secretary nominee. Trump’s pick for Air Force secretary, former New Mexico Representative Heather Wilson, has yet to be scheduled for a Senate confirmation hearing.

In 2013, AsianInvestor magazine named Bilden as one of Asia’s 25 most influential people in private equity, according to a blurb on the Harbourvest website.

James Carafano, at the Heritage Foundation think tank, had said last month that Bilden had “all the makings of a great secretary of the Navy.”

“He loves the service, possesses a deep knowledge of the cyber challenges facing the force, and understands the threat posed by rising naval powers such as China.”

Additional reporting by Tribune News Service