“It is my understanding from Secretary Esper that you requested my resignation from serving as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. 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 February 28, 2020,” Rood wrote in his letter to President Donald Trump, dated Wednesday.
CNN was first to report Rood’s impending departure which was confirmed by Trump in a tweet Wednesday.
“I would like to thank John Rood for his service to our Country, and wish him well in his future endeavors!” Trump wrote, also sharing a story from Bloomberg News which indicated that Rood “faced pressure to resign from some who lost confidence in his ability to carry out Trump agenda.”
Defense Department press secretary Alyssa Farah said in a statement that “Dr. James Anderson, the current senior official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy will take over the responsibilities of Undersecretary Rood until a permanent replacement is appointed by the President and confirmed.”
Not just Ukraine
Officials tell CNN that Rood has differed with the administration on a number of issues including Afghanistan and Ukraine. Officials have said Rood often was perceived as not embracing some of the changes in policy the White House and senior Pentagon officials wanted.
One official said some examples of Rood’s differing views from some of Trump’s key policy stances included being skeptical about peace talks with the Taliban as well as the administration decision to scale down military exercises with South Korea during talks with North Korea and him pushing for a more aggressive approach to Russia by supporting Ukraine.
Rood is the Pentagon’s top policy official and oversees aspects of the Pentagon’s relationship with US allies and partners.
That certification undermined one of the justifications — concerns about corruption in Kiev — that some members of the Trump administration made to defend blocking aid to Ukraine.
Rood notes in his email to the secretary that “placing a hold on security assistance at this time would jeopardize this unique window of opportunity and undermine our defense priorities with a key partner in the strategic competition with Russia.”
Responding to a question Wednesday about a possible link between Rood’s resignation and his role in certifying aid to Ukraine, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Jonathan Hoffman said that it “sounds speculative.”
“I have no information that would lead me to that conclusion,” he added.
An adviser to Trump said at the time that the firings of the major impeachment witnesses was meant to send a message that siding against the President will not be tolerated.
“Flushing out the pipes,” the adviser told CNN. “It was necessary.”
Another Defense Department departure
As head of policy at the Pentagon, Rood helped oversee implementing the Trump administration’s National Defense Strategy, which placed a greater emphasis on countering China and Russia, as well as overseeing the Nuclear Posture Review, which called for changes to the US nuclear arsenal, including the addition of new low-yield nuclear weapons.
“I would like to thank John Rood for his service to the Department,” Esper said in a statement Wednesday. “John has played a critical role on a wide range of DoD issues including modernizing our nuclear deterrence capability, efforts to increase burden sharing by our NATO allies, our Missile Defense Review and implementing the National Defense Strategy. I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”
Rood is just the latest senior officials to leave the Defense Department in recent months. Others include:
- Secretary of Defense chief of staff Eric Chewning
- Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver
- Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Kari Bingen
- Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Director Steven Walker
- Navy Secretary Richard Spencer
- Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Middle East Mick Mulroy
- Acting Assistant Defense Secretary for Special Operations and Low-intensity Conflict Mark Mitchell
- Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jimmy Stewart
Rood joined the administration in January 2018 serving under then-Defense Secretary James Mattis. He has had numerous policy jobs at the Pentagon in previous administrations and also previously worked for the CIA as an analyst. He has also held senior roles with major defense contractors Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.
This story has been updated with additional information.
CNN’s Vivan Salama and Ryan Browne contributed to this report.