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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.

Go deeper

Senate confirms retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as defense secretary

Photo: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

The Senate voted 93-2 on Friday to confirm retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as secretary of defense. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) were the sole "no" votes.

Why it matters: Austin is the first Black American to lead the Pentagon and President Biden's second Cabinet nominee to be confirmed.

Biden plans to keep Christopher Wray as FBI director

FBI Director Christopher Wray at a virtual DOJ news briefing on Oct. 28. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/pool/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden plans to keep Christopher Wray as director of the FBI and has "confidence in the job he is doing," White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed in a tweet Thursday.

The big picture: Wray, who was nominated by former President Trump in 2017 after he fired former FBI Director James Comey, came under heavy criticism from Trump and his allies over the past year.

Updated Jan 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Congress grants waiver for retired Gen. Lloyd Austin to lead Pentagon

Defense Secretary nominee Lloyd Austin. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Both chambers of Congress on Thursday voted to grant retired Gen. Lloyd Austin a waiver to lead the Pentagon, clearing the path to confirmation for President Biden's nominee for defense secretary.

Why it matters: Austin's nomination received pushback from some lawmakers, including Democrats, who cited a law that requires officers be out of the military for at least seven years before taking the job — a statute intended to reinforce the tradition of civilian control of the Pentagon.