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O'Brien says he 'never wanted Mark Esper's job'

O'Brien says he 'never wanted Mark Esper's job'
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National security adviser Robert O’Brien on Monday denied that he was ever gunning for former Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperTrump administration official Norquist sworn in as acting Pentagon chief Watch Out: Progressives are eyeing the last slice of the budget Biden needs to fill the leadership gaps on Day One MORE’s job.

“There was a lot written about Mark Esper and myself,” O’Brien said in an interview with The Hill’s editor-at-large Steve Clemons in an interview conducted for the Soufan Center’s Global Security Forum. “I never wanted Mark Esper’s job. I just wanted to see Mark Esper succeed and do a great job as secretary of Defense.”

The comments come a week after President TrumpDonald TrumpSchumer: Impeachment trial will be quick, doesn't need a lot of witnesses Nurse to be tapped by Biden as acting surgeon general: report Schumer calls for Biden to declare climate emergency MORE fired Esper as Defense secretary and named Christopher Miller, who had been director of the National Counterterrorism Center, to be acting secretary.

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Esper’s firing, as well as an ensuing ouster of several other Pentagon officials and installation of Trump loyalists in their place, has led to a slew of questions about Trump’s intent during his final two months as president.

Over the summer, when reports first surfaced that Trump was unhappy with Esper and close to firing him, CNN reported that O’Brien had expressed interest in the Defense secretary job, as well as secretary of State, should either position open up.

CNN and NBC News also reported that O’Brien at one point printed out a side-by-side comparison of his remarks about Trump versus Esper’s in an effort to highlight how he was more supportive of the president than Esper.

O’Brien has also publicly sparred with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyOvernight Defense: Biden lifts Trump's transgender military ban | Democrats, advocates celebrate end of ban | 5,000 guardsmen staying in DC through mid-March Biden lifting Trump's transgender military ban The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Focus on vaccine, virus, travel MORE over plans for drawing down in Afghanistan.

In October, O’Brien announced a drawdown in Afghanistan to 2,500 troops by early 2021. Days later, Milley dismissed O’Brien’s announcement as “speculation.”

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Without mentioning Milley by name, O’Brien shot back at a public event that he was “not speculating” on Afghanistan troop levels.

Despite the back-and-forth being public, O’Brien in the Global Security Forum interview dismissed his spat with Milley as an invention of the media.

“I don’t think Mark and I have had any disagreements,” O’Brien said. “What happens with the press is there’s this effort in Washington, they always want to have a protagonist and antagonist.”

“There were stories about me being in some sort of adverse relationship with Mark [Esper] or with Mark Milley, both of whom I consider to be friends and good men,” O’Brien added. “I think that’s kind of a Washington thing.”