Trump eyes replacing Esper after election: reports

President TrumpDonald TrumpSix big off-year elections you might be missing Twitter suspends GOP Rep. Banks for misgendering trans health official Meghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' MORE is reportedly considering replacing Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperThree key behind-the-scenes figures in Jan. 6 probe Trump Defense chief blocked idea to send 250,000 troops to border: report Overnight Defense & National Security — Afghanistan concerns center stage with G-20 MORE after the election in November.  

Bloomberg first reported Wednesday afternoon that Trump has privately said he intends to replace Esper after the election, citing unnamed people familiar with internal discussions.

One source told Bloomberg that Esper has told people close to him that he intends to leave after the election regardless of the outcome.

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Reuters later also reported that Trump has privately discussed the possibility of replacing Esper after the election.

In a statement, the White House did not directly refute the reports.

“President Trump has assembled an incredible team at the White House and across the federal government who have accomplished undeniable successes on behalf of the American people. We have no personnel announcements at this time nor would it be appropriate to speculate about changes after the election or in a second term,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said.

Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a separate statement that Esper serves “at the pleasure of the president.”

"It is Secretary Esper's highest honor and privilege to serve the nation in defense of our great country,” Hoffman said. “He continues that same commitment to duty, honor and country today, recognizing that he serves the nation and leads the men and women of this department as secretary of Defense at the pleasure of the president."

A source close to Esper, meanwhile, said he “is committed to serving as long as the commander-in-chief wants him to.”

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Esper is said to have been on thin ice with Trump since June when the Defense secretary came out in opposition to using active-duty troops against protesters. During that time, Trump repeatedly threatened to send in the military to quell demonstrations against racial injustice and police violence.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany at the time sidestepped questions about whether Trump continued to have confidence in Esper, saying that “as of right now, Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper. And should the president lose faith, we will all learn about that in the future.”

A week later, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump was talking about firing Esper over the split on how to respond to the protests.

Last month, Esper also effectively banned the display of the Confederate battle flag at Pentagon property even as Trump continued to defend its display of the flag as a free speech issue. Esper’s policy did not explicitly ban the flag, but rather excluded it from a list of specific flags that are allowed.

It is not uncommon for presidents to change up their administrations in a second term, but the Pentagon has seen a high amount of turnover, turmoil and vacancies during the Trump administration.

Prior to Esper’s confirmation last year, the Defense secretary post was held by acting officials for nearly seven months after former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security MORE resigned in protest over Trump’s since-reversed decision to withdraw from Syria.