WASHINGTON – Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper was sacked Monday by President Trump, the latest victim in the president’s revolving door by senior national security officials who fell on the wrong side of their boss.
Mr. Trump announced the decision on Twitterand said in an abrupt post that Mr. Esper had been “terminated”.
Mr Trump wrote on Twitter that he is appointing Christopher C. Miller, referred to by the President as “highly respected” Director of the National Counter Terrorism Center, as acting Secretary of Defense. He will be the fourth man to run the Pentagon under Mr. Trump, who pointed out that Mr. Miller has already been approved by the Senate.
Mr. Miller is a former Army Green Beret who previously served as the senior counter-terrorism officer on the Trump White House National Security Council.
Mr Esper’s fall had been expected for months after taking the rare step in June of publicly disagreeing with Mr Trump and saying that active military forces should not be deployed to control the wave of protests in American cities. The president, who threatened to use the Insurrection Act, was furious, officials said.
Mr Esper’s spokesman at the time was trying to reverse the damage, telling the New York Times that Mr Trump did not want to apply the Insurrection Act either, or he would have already asserted it. “We’re not seeing the breakup,” said Jonathan Hoffman, a spokesman for Mr. Esper.
White House officials disagreed.
Mr. Esper, 56, former Secretary of the Army and former Raytheon executive, became Secretary of Defense last July after Mr. Trump announced the appointment of Patrick M. Shanahan, Acting Secretary of Defense, amid an F.B.I. Investigating Mr. Shanahan’s former wife’s allegations of punching her in the stomach. Mr. Shanahan denied the allegations.
Shanahan had stood up for Jim Mattis, who stepped down as Secretary of Defense in 2018 and cited his own differences with the president.
Mr. Esper had tried hard to reach the Trump line during his tenure. However, concerns about using the Insurrection Act to send troops on active duty to fight protesters across the country are deeply ingrained in the Pentagon. Finally, under heavy public criticism, Mr. Esper broke with the President.
Mr. Trumps did referred to Mr. Esper as “Mr. Yesper. “But the insult is ironic in itself, as it was the Secretary of Defense’s public break with the President during a June press conference in which he spoke out against the use of active American troops to quell unrest that initially enraged Mr. Trump These comments came after accompanying Mr. Trump on his stroll in Lafayette Square in front of the White House, where protesters had just been gassed in tears, leading to a conviction by former Military and Civil Defense officials.
By midsummer, Mr Esper walked a fine line to push back other controversial positions involving the military Mr Trump had occupied.
The Pentagon announced in July that it would essentially ban the display of the Confederate flag on military installations around the world without even mentioning the word “Confederate”.
In a carefully worded memo, which Defense Department officials said was written to avoid triggering another defense of the flag by Mr Trump, Mr Esper issued guidelines detailing the types of flags that would be used Can be displayed on military installations – in barracks, on cars and on signs.
The guidelines did not specifically state that Confederate flags were banned, but they do not fit into any of the approved categories – and such flags are banned.
Following the fateful events of June, Mr Esper tried to fly under the radar, avoid the media and hold back so as not to be drawn into electoral politics.
Mr. Esper traveled extensively from early summer onwards, including trips abroad to North Africa, the Middle East and India.
But the secretary deliberately restricted his public comments along the way.
And when he spoke in public, either overseas or in Washington, it was often recorded remarks, on safe subjects (beat up China and Russia on the Africa trip) or in friendly places (a question-and-answer session on the military Readiness) at the Heritage Foundation, where Mr. Esper served as Chief of Staff earlier in his career)
However, in 2020’s biggest single issue – the coronavirus pandemic – history could show that Mr Esper far surpassed his boss, who largely refused to wear a mask during an outbreak at the White House, and clashed with the Has infected coronavirus. In contrast, Mr. Esper has strictly followed the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for wearing a mask when unable to maintain a recommended social distance.
During a city hall-style virtual meeting in the Pentagon, Mr. Esper responded to a seaman from the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford who complained about the required social distancing aboard the ship, which was affecting morale.
“It’s boring – I get it,” said Mr Esper. “But I think, in terms of the Navy’s results on infection rates, it shows that they are doing a very good job.”