Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Another Defense official resigns | Pentagon chief says military ‘remains strong’ despite purge | Top contender for Biden DOD secretary would be historic pick

Greg Nash

Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Ellen Mitchell, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: The deputy chief of staff for the secretary of Defense has resigned, a Department of Defense (DOD) official confirmed to The Hill on Friday. 

Deputy chief of staff Alexis Ross is the latest in a series of Pentagon officials stepping down this week after President Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper. 

CNN first reported Ross’s resignation Thursday evening. 

The previous exits: Ross’s resignation follows the departures of the Pentagon’s top policy official James Anderson, the agency’s top intelligence official Joseph Kernan and Esper’s chief of staff Jen Stewart. All three submitted letters announcing their resignations Tuesday, effective immediately.

The exits, which came after Trump fired Esper via Twitter Monday, have raised fears that the administration is looking to quickly fill the Pentagon with loyalists who can help push through controversial executive actions in the final weeks of Trump’s presidency. 

Sources reportedly told CNN’s Jake Tapper Monday after Esper’s firing that the White House is apparently focused on pushing out Esper’s under secretaries after Esper and his team argued against the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. 

The replacements: The DOD confirmed Wednesday that acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller hired a senior adviser who has frequently pushed for the immediate removal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. 

Retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor “will be serving as a Senior Advisor to the Acting Secretary of Defense. Mr. Macgregor’s decades of military experience will be used to assist in the continued implementation of the President’s national security priorities,” a Pentagon spokesperson told The Hill.

Macgregor, Trump’s failed pick for U.S. ambassador to Germany, has repeatedly in the past year advocated for the Trump administration to pull U.S. forces from conflicts in the Middle East.

Anderson’s replacement, retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata, has also raised concerns. 

Tata this summer was forced to pull his name from consideration for the Pentagon’s top policy position when his past Islamophobic tweets resurfaced. In the tweets, Tata called former President Obama a “terrorist leader” and a “Manchurian candidate,” and called Islam the “most oppressive violent religion I know of.”


NEW PENTAGON CHIEF SAYS MILITARY ‘REMAINS STRONG’ FOLLOWING LEADERSHIP PURGE: Newly appointed acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said Friday that the military “remains strong” following President Trump‘s abrupt ouster of his predecessor and the resignations of several top Defense officials.

“I want to assure the American public and our allies and partners that the Department of Defense remains strong and continues its vital work of protecting our homeland, our people and our interests around the world,” Miller said at the Pentagon ahead of a meeting with his Lithuanian counterpart.

Miller on Monday took over as Pentagon chief after Trump firmed Esper via tweet, two days after President-elect Joe Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election.

Pocan is the co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Lee is the caucus’s chairwoman emeritus.

Fears over changes: The shake-up was quickly called out by lawmakers as a detriment to national security in the midst of a tense transition of power. Trump’s critics also worry that the Pentagon’s new leadership may try to push through controversial executive orders in the president’s remaining two months in office.

“Whatever the reason, casting aside a Secretary of Defense during the volatile days of transition seems to neglect the President’s most important duty: to protect our national security,” tweeted Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), a former CIA analyst and Pentagon official.

Miller seeks to calm: But on Friday, Miller underscored calm at the Defense Department. He noted that he has already spoken to his counterparts in several ally countries, including Germany, France and the United Kingdom, and that he plans to speak to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg later in the day.

Miller also said he has spoken with leaders in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees.

Miller, a White House counterterrorism specialist and former special forces officer, will likely be replaced quickly after Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20.


TOP CONTENDER FOR BIDEN DEFENSE CHIEF WOULD BE HISTORIC PICK: One of President-elect Joe Biden’s leading contenders to be Defense secretary wouldn’t challenge Washington’s defense orthodoxy, but she would break barriers in another way: She would be the first woman in the job.

Michele Flournoy, who held the No. 3 civilian Pentagon job during the Obama administration, is widely seen as the odds-on favorite to be Biden’s Pentagon chief.

A respected policy wonk, Flournoy has recently stressed the need for greater investment in emerging technologies to better compete against China.

If chosen, her supporters say, the 59-year-old would bring an experienced and steady hand to leading the largest federal agency as it recovers from the turmoil of the Trump administration.

“She knows the Pentagon incredibly well. It’s a vast, vast bureaucracy that nobody can fully understand because just it‘s so, so big,” said Rosa Brooks, who worked under Flournoy from 2009 to 2011. “But if there’s anybody who understands it as well as anybody could understand it, it’s Michele.”

Potential roadblocks: Her greatest opposition could come from within the Democratic Party, as progressives look warily at her work as a consultant and see her as emblematic of what they consider failed military adventurism of the past.

Some other names have been floated since Biden won the presidency — Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, among them.

But Flournoy has been seen as the likely next Defense secretary in a Democratic administration since Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2016.

Read more here.



– The Hill: Ex-CIA Director Brennan: Trump ‘score settling’ with Pentagon changes

– The Hill: Biden advisers: Trump transition delays putting national security at risk

– The Hill: Trump signs executive order banning investment in Chinese companies linked to military

– Defense News: In F-35 sale to UAE, Senate seeks State Dept. guarantee for US technology and Israel

– The New York Times: ‘Are We Getting Invaded?’ U.S. Boats Faced Russian Aggression Near Alaska

Tags Donald Trump Elissa Slotkin Hillary Clinton Jake Tapper Joe Biden Mark Esper Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Tammy Duckworth
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