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HASC chairman Smith says Trump firing Esper is ‘out of spite, childish and reckless’

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, questions then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter Aug. 1, 2012, in Washington, D.C. (Glenn Fawcett/Department of Defense)
November 09, 2020

House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Adam Smith issued a statement condemning President Donald Trump firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Monday.

“In the national security community, it is well known that periods of presidential transition leave our country exposed to unique threats. Until President-Elect Biden is sworn into office next January, it is imperative that the Pentagon remain under stable, experienced leadership,” Smith said in a statement provided to American Military News.

“Dismissing politically appointed national security leaders during a transition is a destabilizing move that will only embolden our adversaries and put our country at greater risk. President Trump’s decision to fire Secretary Esper out of spite is not just childish, it’s also reckless. It has long been clear that President Trump cares about loyalty above all else, often at the expense of competence, and during a period of presidential transition competence in government is of the utmost importance,” Smith added.

Trump announced Esper’s firing and replacement in a Monday afternoon tweet, saying, “I am pleased to announce that Christopher C. Miller, the highly respected Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (unanimously confirmed by the Senate), will be Acting Secretary of Defense, effective immediately. Chris will do a GREAT job! Mark Esper has been terminated. I would like to thank him for his service.”

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Last week, defense sources told NBC that Esper had prepared a resignation letter in anticipation of the election.

Chief Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman shot down the report on Wednesday, saying, “The NBC story is inaccurate and misleading in many ways. To be clear, Secretary of Defense Esper has no plans to resign, nor has he been asked to submit a letter of resignation. He continues to serve the nation as the Secretary of Defense at the pleasure of the President and is working on the irreversible implementation of the National Defense Strategy.”

Rumors have swirled about Esper’s potential termination for months, however.

Trump had questioned whether Esper could still effectively lead at the Pentagon after Esper voiced opposition to using active military troops to respond to nationwide civil unrest following the death of George Floyd. While Trump raised the idea of using the National Guard and even active military units to respond to rioting, Esper said the military “should only be used as a last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations” and said, “we are not in one of those situations now.”

In August, Trump responded publicly to speculation about Esper’s tenure, saying “I get along with [Esper]. I get along with him fine. He’s fine,” but also said “I consider firing everybody” and added, “At some point, that’s what happens.”

Esper is the third person to act as the Secretary of Defense under Trump, following Trump’s first pick of U.S. Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, and then acting-Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. Esper became Trump’s second confirmed defense secretary in July 2019.

Esper’s replacement has served in a number of roles in the Trump administration since 2018.

Miller first served as one of Trump’s National Security Council aides and Senior Director for Counterterrorism and Transnational Threats.

In January 2020, Miller assumed the Department of Defense role as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict.

In August, Miller received Senate confirmation to become Director of the National Counterterrorism Center in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.