President Donald Trump will reach into the three-star ranks to nominate Vice Adm. Mike Gilday to be the next chief of naval operations following Adm. Bill Moran's sudden retirement announcement, The Wall Street Journal is reporting.
Trump met with Gilday and other Navy officials on Wednesday, according to the Journal. The paper cited three unnamed U.S. officials in confirming the president's plans to nominate the career surface warfare officer as CNO. Navy officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The move follows an unexpected retirement announcement from Moran, who was confirmed by the Senate and scheduled to take over as CNO next month. Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said this week that Moran's judgement was called into question after he maintained a professional relationship with a former Navy officer who'd been accused of sexual harassment.
In a statement, Moran called the decision to retire painful, but added that the relationship with the former officer, who was investigated for sexual harassment claims but was never charged, was "in no way an endorsement ... of this kind of conduct."
In May, Trump nominated Gilday to become the director of the Joint Chiefs. Before that, he served as the head of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command and as commander of Carrier Strike Group 8.
A Naval Academy grad, Gilday holds master's degrees from the Harvard Kennedy School and National War College. He has also served as a naval aide to the president. Among his awards are the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat "V" device and the Combat Action Ribbon.
Navy analysts speculate this week that the president could nominate a three-star for the CNO position after Moran's surprising retirement announcement. Retired Navy Capt. Jerry Hendrix, a defense analyst, named Gilday as one of three vice admirals likely in the running.
"All of these officers have reputations for taking a fresh look at our Navy's problems," he said.
It's rare, though not unheard of, for lower-ranking flag and general officers to be nominated to service chief positions. Arleigh Burke was a two-star when he selected by President Dwight Eisenhower to be CNO, bypassing dozens of more senior admirals. The last two Marine Corps commandant picks have been pulled from the three-star ranks.
The CNO vacancy is one of several leadership shakeups the Pentagon has faced in recent months. On Wednesday, senators were briefed on unsubstantiated sexual-assault allegations concerning Air Force Gen. John Hyten, who has been nominated to serve as the next Joint Chiefs vice chairman.
Last month, former Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan stepped down from his role, citing family concerns that surfaced during background checks. Trump had stated his intent to nominate Shanahan to serve in that role permanently.