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‘I consider firing everybody’ Trump says when asked about Esper replacement plans

Then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speaks with President Donald Trump at a White House coronavirus briefing (Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Sipa USA/TNS)
August 17, 2020

When asked Friday about claims he would replace Secretary of Defense Mark Esper after the November election, President Donald Trump initially offered a “he’s fine.”

Responding to questions about Esper said, Trump said, “Mark ‘Yesper?’ Did you call him ‘Yesper?.’ Some people call him ‘Yesper,'” appearing to imply Esper is a “yes man.” The Washington Examiner reported Trump continued his remarks, saying “I get along with him. I get along with him fine. He’s fine.”

When asked directly about whether he would fire Esper, Trump said, “I consider firing everybody. At some point, that’s what happens.”

Trump’s comments came after reports by Bloomberg News renewed claims Trump and Esper’s relationship is strained and that Trump may seek a replacement for Esper. Sources reportedly familiar with internal discussions told Bloomberg reporters that Trump may replace Esper if he wins the November election.

Separately, sources close to Esper have suggested he is also considering leaving the administration after the election regardless of the election results.

Speaking further on cabinet reorganizations, Trump said, “Generally speaking, a lot of times, I understand when, if we win, a president will ask for the resignation of everybody and then bring back the people he wants. That’s happened before … and I could see something like that happening. I think that makes sense.”

Trump went on to say “I have a very good Cabinet, I mean, with few exceptions. I wouldn’t say I’m thrilled with everybody, frankly. But overall, I think we have a very good Cabinet.”

It’s not uncommon for presidents to reorganize their cabinets after winning re-election, according to the Washington Examiner, however, Esper is Trump’s second Defense Secretary inside his first presidential term.

Esper, who reached the rank of Lt. Col in the U.S. Army and also served as the Secretary of the Army, became the Secretary of Defense in July of 2019. Trump’s previous defense secretary, retired U.S. Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, left the Trump administration after Trump announced plans to withdraw troops from Syria.

Trump and Esper’s relationship reportedly became strained amid widespread civil unrest around the country in June. Esper appeared to contradict Trump in opposing the use of U.S. troops to respond to rioting, describing it as a “last resort.” Days later, reports circulated that Trump had asked advisors if Esper would still be effective in his position heading the Department of Defense.

Bloomberg reported Trump has also wanted Esper to make a greater effort to defend the administration against allegations it ignored claims of Russian bounty payments to the Taliban to attack U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Esper himself has said he had heard reports about the Russian bounty payments but that defense officials had not yet found the claims credible. Pentagon officials have also said there has been no corroboration on the bounty claims.