WASHINGTON – Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper was fired by President Trump on Monday, the latest accident at the president’s rotating door of top national security officials who fell on the wrong side of their boss.
Mr. Trump announced the decision on Twitter, saying in a sharp post that Mr Esper had been “terminated”.
Mr Trump wrote on Twitter that he was appointing Christopher K. Miller, whom the president described as “highly respected” as director of the National Counterterrorism Center, as deputy secretary of defense. He will be the fourth person to lead the Pentagon under Trump, noting that Mr. Miller has already been approved by the Senate.
Mr Miller is a former Army Green Beret who previously served as a senior counterterrorism official at Trump’s White House National Security Council..
Mr Esper’s fall has been expected for months, as he took the rare step in June publicly disagreeing with Mr. Trump and saying that militarily active troops should not be sent to control the wave of protests in American cities. The president, who had threatened to use the insurgency law to do just that, was outraged, officials said.
Mr Esper’s spokesman then tried to prevent the damage, telling The New York Times that Mr Trump did not want to use the Rebellion Act, otherwise he would have invoked it. “We can not see the disconnection,” said Jonathan Hoffman, a spokesman for Esper.
White House officials disagreed.
Mr Esper, 56, former army secretary and former Raytheon executive, became secretary of defense last July after Mr. Trump withdrew the appointment by Patrick M. Shanahan, the active secretary of defense, amid an FBI investigation into allegations by Mr Shanahan’s ex-wife that he pulled her in the stomach. Mr Shanahan denied the allegations.
Mr Shanahan defended Jim Mattis, who resigned as Minister of Defense in 2018, stating his own differences with the president.
Mr. Esper had made efforts to draw Trump’s line during his tenure. However, concerns about invoking the uprising law to send active troops to fight protesters across the country are deep in the Pentagon. Under intense public criticism, Mr. Esper finally broke up with the president.
Mr. Trump has referred to Mr Esper as “Sir. Yes.” But the insult is ironic in itself, as it was the defense minister’s public break with the president. during a press conference In June, he spoke out against the use of active-duty US troops to quell civil unrest that has angered Mr Trump. These comments came after he accompanied Mr. Trump walk to Lafayette Square outside the White House, where protesters had just burst into tears, prompting condemnation from former military and civil defense officials.
By the summer, Mr. Esper was walking a good line to return to other controversial positions in Mr. Trump’s military.
The Pentagon, without mentioning the word “Confederation”, announced in July that it would effectively ban the display of the Confederate flag in military installations around the world.
In a carefully worded note that Department of Defense officials said was written to prevent another from catching fire defending the flag by Mr. TrumpMr Esper issued instructions listing the types of flags that could be displayed on military installations – barracks, cars and license plates.
The directives did not specifically state that Federation flags were banned, but they do not fit into any of the approved categories – and such flags are prohibited.
Following the June events, Mr. Esper tried to fly under the radar, avoiding the media and maintaining a low profile to avoid engaging in electoral politics.
Mr. Esper traveled frequently beginning in the early summer, including trips abroad to North Africa, the Middle East, and India.
But the secretary deliberately curtailed his public comments while on the road.
And when he spoke in public, either abroad or in Washington, he was often in the comments, on safe topics (hitting China and Russia on a trip to Africa) or in friendly places (a Q&A session on military readiness at Heritage Foundation, where Mr. Esper served as Chief of Staff earlier in his career).
However, for the bigger issue of 2020 – the coronavirus pandemic – History can show that Mr. Esper has, to a large extent, outgrown his boss, who largely refused to wear a mask and contracted the coronavirus during a White House outbreak. Mr Esper, on the other hand, strictly followed the instructions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding the use of a mask when he could not maintain a recommended social distance.
At a Pentagon Virtual City Hall meeting, Mr. Esper responded to a Gerald R. Ford naval officer who complained about the required social distance on the ship hurts morale.
“It’s tedious – I understand,” said Mr Esper. “But I think it shows, in terms of the Navy’s results in terms of infection rates, that they are doing a very good job.”