Defense

Talk grows of Trump firings at Pentagon, CIA

Talk is picking up that President Trump could fire members of his Cabinet, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, even as the presidential election goes uncalled.

Esper has long been seen as out-the-door regardless of who wins the election, including the possibility that he would resign during the transition period if Trump loses.

But firing him would give Trump a chance to flex his executive powers as it appears increasingly likely he could lose to Democratic nominee Joe Biden. It would also raise questions about the military chain of command during a fraught time in the United States.

Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin reported Friday that multiple sources tell him Esper could be fired as early as this week.

A GOP source has echoed this expectation to The Hill that Esper may be gone as soon as this week, but another source familiar with the matter cautioned Friday morning that nothing is definitive.

A House Armed Services Committee aide said Friday the panel has not been “advised on any imminent personnel changes within Pentagon leadership.” The Senate Armed Services Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Pentagon on Friday referred The Hill to a statement issued the day before in response to an NBC News report that Esper has prepared a letter of resignation. In the statement, chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Esper “has no plans to resign, nor has he been asked to submit a letter of resignation.”

“He continues to serve the nation as the secretary of Defense at the pleasure of the president and is working on the irreversible implementation of the National Defense Strategy,” Hoffman said in Thursday’s statement. “The speculation about potential resignations of Cabinet officials is a tiresome, well-worn, DC-insider, post-election parlor game.”

Asked about chatter that Trump will soon fire Esper, White House spokesman Judd Deere said Friday that “if the president doesn’t have confidence in someone he will let you know. The White House does not speculate or comment on personnel matters.”

Questions are also swirling as to whether FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel will be ousted as well, as the president and his allies grow increasingly frustrated that the two top intelligence officials won’t wade into political matters. 

Trump and his allies have grown increasingly frustrated that officials like Wray will not meet the president’s calls for the launch of a formal investigation to examine the business dealings of his political opponent’s son, Hunter Biden, or his resistance to firing officials tied to the 2016 Russia probe that Trump has alleged have acted improperly.

The president has long made clear he values loyalty over everything else. He’s pressured intelligence officials to become involved in investigations or make statements that would benefit him.

Esper and Trump’s relationship soured considerably over the summer after the Defense secretary publicly split with Trump over deploying active-duty troops to quell nationwide racial justice protests. Trump had repeatedly threatened to do so, prompting Esper to announce his opposition to the idea at a Pentagon news conference.

Esper’s move was said to have infuriated Trump to the point that the president had to be talked out of firing him then.

Since then, Esper has maintained a relatively low profile as he balanced leading the department and shielding the military from politics with trying not to provoke Trump further. 

Esper, who was confirmed as Trump’s Defense chief in July 2019, replaced James Mattis, who resigned after disagreeing with the administration’s move to pull troops out of Syria.   

Tags 2020 election Christopher Wray CIA Donald Trump Gina Haspel James Mattis Joe Biden Judd Deere Mark Esper Pentagon
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