Christopher C. Miller, formerly Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, replaces Esper as acting Secretary of Defense. Including temporary appointments, Miller is Trump’s fifth Pentagon head in four years.
In his typical style, the President announced his decision to replace Esper via tweet. Trump wrote: “I am pleased to announce that Christopher C. Miller, the highly respected Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (unanimously confirmed by the Senate), will be Acting Secretary of Defense, effective immediately Chris will do a GREAT job! Mark Esper has been terminated. I would like to thank him for his service.”
Esper had fallen out of the outgoing President’s favour over several issues including his refusal to support Trump’s call to use to the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty US military personnel on US streets amid the past year’s Black Lives Matter protests.
Esper, along with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, drew criticism when they accompanied Trump on a photo-op outside St James Church. Protestors in the area were forcibly cleared out by Police and the National Guard to allow the President to take a photo outside of the church.
Esper is the only Defense Secretary to be fired after a president lost an election; usually, Cabinet members are kept on to ease the transition between administrations.
National security figures have raised concern at Trump’s decision to fire Esper so close to the end of his presidency, with many saying it threatens the smooth transition of power to the incoming Biden-administration.
Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Representative Adam Smith said: “In the national security community, it is well known that periods of presidential transition leave our country exposed to unique threats.
“Until President-Elect Biden is sworn into office next January, it is imperative that the Pentagon remain under stable, experienced leadership.”
Esper had been working closely with members of Congress to draw up legislation that would see Army bases named after Confederate figures renamed. In his final interview with Military Times, Esper shrugged of his moniker of ‘Yesper’ claiming that his successor would be a ‘yes man’ for the President.
Esper told Military Times: “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.”
Smith added: “Dismissing politically appointed national security leaders during a transition is a destabilising move that will only embolden our adversaries and put our country at greater risk. President Trump’s decision to fire Secretary Esper out of spite is not just childish, it’s also reckless.
“It has long been clear that President Trump cares about loyalty above all else, often at the expense of competence, and during a period of presidential transition competence in government is of the utmost importance.”
In his final memorandum, sent to all employees of the Department of Defense (Dod), Esper wrote: “Stay focused on your mission, remain steadfast in your pursuit of excellence, and always do the right thing.”
Miller likely only hold the top-job until January when President-elect Biden is inaugurated. Biden is widely expected to nominate Michele Flournoy to lead the Pentagon, in a move which would make her the first female Secretary of Defense.