President Donald Trump announced Monday that he had “terminated” Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
Trump said Chris Miller, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, would serve as acting defense secretary “effective immediately.”
…Chris will do a GREAT job! Mark Esper has been terminated. I would like to thank him for his service.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2020
Trump had reportedly considered firing Esper after the election. That desire came amid the potential – and now expected – purges of top national security, law enforcement, and public health officials.
Esper himself entered office in 2019, after his predecessor, James Mattis, resigned.
But the move comes after Esper’s relationship with Trump has reportedly been deteriorating for months, after the defense secretary said in June that he was against using active duty soldiers to put down Black Lives Matter protests.
In particular, Esper delivered a press conference at the Pentagon in June where he said that he viewed the use of soldiers in American cities as a last resort, a remark that contradicted Trump’s stated intention of using the military to quell the protests. Esper has also been helping Congress draft legislation that would remove the names of Confederate generals from American military bases, a policy that Trump also opposes.
When asked in August if he was considering sacking Esper, Trump replied “I consider firing everybody. At some point, that’s what happens.”
But chatter around Esper’s removal heated up around the election, after NBC reported that Esper had drafted a resignation letter.
Trump said in the tweet that he would name Christopher C. Miller, head of the national counterterrorism center, as Esper’s replacement. The Senate confirmed Miller to that position by a voice vote in August.
Trump is reportedly considering firing other members of his administration, including FBI Director Chris Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel.
In a Nov. 4 interview with the Military Times published on Monday, Esper pushed back against criticism that he was a yes-man for the President, known otherwise as “Yesper.”
“My frustration is I sit here and say, ‘Hm, 18 Cabinet members. Who’s pushed back more than anybody?’ Name another Cabinet secretary that’s pushed back,” Esper said. “Have you seen me on a stage saying, ‘Under the exceptional leadership of blah-blah-blah, we have blah-blah-blah-blah?’”
He added that he had no regrets from his tenure.
“At the end of the day, it’s as I said — you’ve got to pick your fights,” Esper told the outlet. “I could have a fight over anything, and I could make it a big fight, and I could live with that —why? Who’s going to come in behind me? It’s going to be a real ‘yes man.’ And then God help us.”