Nov 11, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump administration replaces senior defense officials with White House loyalists

Photo of Mark Esper standing at a podium giving a speech

Defense Secretary Mark Esper's firing set off a string of departures. Photo: Chen Mengtong/China News Service via Getty

The Trump administration has placed White House loyalists in key positions at the Pentagon amid a reshuffling of multiple senior level defense officials this week.

Why it matters: "The decisions swept decades of experience out of the Pentagon..." the Washington Post writes. The post-election personnel changes are anticipated to complicate the transition for President-elect Joe Biden as President Trump refuses to concede.

  • Despite his loss, Trump is emboldened to ax anyone he sees as constraining him from enacting desired policies or going after perceived enemies, Axios' Jonathan Swan and Alayna Treene write.
  • Intelligence officials and Democrats expressed their alarm at this politicization of the Pentagon. Democrats have demanded explanations for the shake-up and warned that the U.S. was entering “uncharted territory” during a presidential transition, per the Guardian.

The state of play: Trump announced on Monday that Christopher Miller, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, would replace Defense Secretary Mark Esper after months of tension between the White House and Defense Department.

  • According to a Pentagon release, Kash Patel, who previously worked under Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), will serve as chief of staff to Miller, replacing Jen Stewart who sat in the role under Esper.
  • James Anderson resigned as acting under secretary of defense for policy and will be replaced by retired Army brigadier general Anthony Tata, who has been scrutinized for promoting conspiracy theories and calling former President Obama a “terrorist leader."
  • Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security Joseph Kernan, a retired three-star admiral and Navy SEAL officer, submitted his letter of resignation effective immediately. The Pentagon's statement indicated his departure had been planned for months. Ezra Cohen-Watnick will take over for Kernan as acting undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security.

Of note: Biden has been shut out from intelligence briefings meant to prepare him for his transition, NPR reports.

What to watch: More firings are expected, including CIA Director Gina Haspel and FBI Director Christopher Wray.

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