Patrick Cronin, a liberal Republican China hand who signed a letter denouncing Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, on Friday withdrew from taking a plum position as director of a Pentagon-funded think tank in Hawaii.
Cronin "informed the Department of Defense that he wishes to withdraw his name for consideration as director of the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies for personal reasons," Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said.
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The action followed a Thursday report in the Washington Times revealing that Cronin had signed a letter in March 2016 along with 121 other former Republican national security officials opposing Trump's presidential bid.
The initial announcement by the Asia Pacific center March 10 stated that Secretary of Defense James Mattis had approved Cronin's appointment to head the Honolulu-based think tank.
The center altered its announcement after the Times report, omitting the reference to the secretary of defense's approval.
Until recently, the think tank was part of the U.S. Pacific Command. It now reports to the Pentagon's undersecretary of defense for policy. However, the center, which conducts military and civilian education, supports the Pacific Command, according to the center's website.
Disclosure of the Trump critic's appointment took both the Pentagon and Pacific Command by surprise.
Davis, the Pentagon spokesman, said Mattis was not involved in Cronin's appointment, which was underway before January when the Trump administration came into office.
A Pacific Command spokesman sought to distance the command from Cronin by claiming it has little relationship with the center.
President Trump and the White House have taken a hard line on so-called never-Trump Republicans, blocking several prominent former officials who held senior national security and foreign policy positions in previous administrations.
The anti-Trump letter that Cronin signed, one of two signed by Republicans during the campaign, stated that "we are united in our opposition to a Donald Trump presidency."
"He is fundamentally dishonest," the letter stated, adding that the former officials are committed to "working energetically to prevent the election of someone so utterly unfitted to the office."
Trump dismissed the criticism during the campaign as the product of failed establishment officials and made clear the opponents would not be appointed to positions in his administration.
The policy has made it difficult for the Trump administration to fill some senior-level political positions in the Pentagon and State Department.
Cronin stated in an email before he withdrew that he was honored to be offered the position of director at the Asia-Pacific Center.
"This is not a political appointment but it was approved by the secretary of defense," Cronin said.
Davis, however, said Mattis was not involved in any way with the selection of Cronin for the post.
Cronin said in an email that "the campaign is history and now the hard work of governing beckons for all Americans."
"After Donald Trump's triumphant election, I turned to the mission of how I could help the president and his national security team," he said.
"Attack me for expressing my personal views about candidates during our democratic election process, but please judge me by my faithful and unstinting commitment to support President Trump, his administration, and above all the United States of America," Cronin said.
William C. Triplett II, a China specialist and former counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the withdrawal was appropriate.
"Patrick Cronin not only signed the obnoxious ‘Never Trump' letters, he went out of his way to endorse Hillary for president," Triplett said.
"Just another of the inappropriate appointments coming out of office of the secretary of defense," he added. "I think it is disloyal to continue to throw declared enemies at the White House and demand their endorsement. Such a situation would be unthinkable if Hillary had become president."