A UNITED States (U.S.) Defence Secretary Mark T. Esper was fired by President Trump on Monday, the latest casualty in the president’s revolving door of top national security officials, who fell on the wrong side of their boss.
Trump announced the decision on Twitter, saying in an abrupt post that Esper had been “terminated.”
He wrote on Twitter that he was appointing Christopher C. Miller, described by the president as the “highly respected” director of the National Counterterrorism Centre, to be acting defence secretary.
He will be the fourth man to lead the Pentagon under Trump, who made a point of noting that Miller has been approved by the Senate already.
Miller is a former Army Green Beret, who previously served as the top counterterrorism policy official in the Trump White House’s National Security Council.
Esper’s downfall had been expected for months, after he took the rare step in June of disagreeing publicly with Trump and saying that active-duty military troops should not be sent to control the wave of protests in American cities.
The president, who had threatened to use the Insurrection Act to do exactly that, was furious, officials said.
Esper’s spokesman tried at the time to walk back the damage, telling The New York Times that Trump did not want to use the Insurrection Act, either, or else he would have invoked it already. “We fail to see the disconnect,” said Jonathan Hoffman, a spokesman for Esper.
Esper, 56, a former secretary of the Army and a former Raytheon executive, became defence secretary last July after Trump withdrew the nomination of Patrick M. Shanahan, the acting defence secretary, amid an FBI inquiry into allegations from Shanahan’s former wife that he punched her in the stomach. Shanahan denied the accusations.
Shanahan had been standing in for Jim Mattis, who resigned as defence secretary in 2018, citing his own differences with the president.
Esper had taken pains to hew to the Trump line during his tenure. But concern over invoking the Insurrection Act to send active-duty troops to battle protesters across the country is deep in the Pentagon. Under heavy public criticism, Esper ultimately broke with the president.
Mr. Trump’s has referred to Esper as “Mr. Yesper.” But the insult is ironic by itself, since it was the defence secretary’s public break with the president during a news conference in June in which he spoke against use of active-duty American troops to quell civil unrest that infuriated Trump to begin with. Those comments came after he had accompanied Trump on his walk across Lafayette Square outside the White House, where protesters had just been tear-gassed, prompting condemnation from former military and civilian Defence Department officials.
By midsummer, Esper was walking a fine line to push back on other contentious positions involving the military that Mr. Trump had taken.