The “termination” of U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, announced in a Tweet by President Trump, is a “childish” act that will embolden America’s adversaries during a time of presidential transition, in words of U.S. Representative Adam Smith, D‑Wash., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Smith has warned about the politicizing of the Pentagon, which he has described as one branch of the federal government that has stood apart from revolving appointments of officials terrified of angering the President.
“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,” Smith said in a statement after Trump’s abrupt post-election action.
“President Trump’s decision to fire Secretary Esper out of spite is not just childish, but 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.”
Esper had prepared a letter of resignation. But a vindictive Trump has made firing by tweet a hallmark of his governing style. The Defense Secretary incurred the incumbent’s ire by announcing in June he would not deploy active-duty troops to American cities. Trump had floated use of the Insurrection Act to quell civil unrest.
Esper angered Trump again by moving to ban displays of Confederate flags at military installations. Trump has defended the naming of major military installations for such figures as Confederate Generals Braxton Bragg and John Bell Hood. Both were major “losers” in the Civil War.
Esper is being replaced by Christopher Miller, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, who will serve as acting defense secretary during the remaining seventy days of the Trump administration.
The jobs of two other national security professionals, CIA Director Gina Haspel and FBI Director Christopher Wray, are reportedly also in jeopardy.
A second senior Northwest lawmaker, Senator Ron Wyden, D‑Oregon, criticized the Esper firing and Miller hiring. Said Wyden: “Donald Trump fired someone who wouldn’t order U.S. troops to attack peaceful protesters and is replacing him with someone he may think will carry out those orders.
“I opposed Chris Miller’s nomination earlier this year, because he refused to promise that intelligence agencies wouldn’t target Americans based on their political views. He should remember that anyone who carries out an illegal order from Donald Trump will be held fully accountable under the law.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned, in a statement, that the timing of Esper’s termination “raises serious questions about Trump’s planned actions for the final days of his Administration.”
The termination of Esper “is disturbing evidence that President Trump is intent on using his final days in office to sow chaos in our American Democracy and around the world.”
Senator Jack Reed, D‑Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, added: “Firing of the Secretary of Defense in the waning weeks of the Administration undermines national security at a critical moment.”
Adam Smith heads one of Congress’ most collegial committees.
He has been more outspoken of late, particularly after the firing of Capt. Brett Crozier of the carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, removed from his job for pleading for Pentagon help with a coronavirus outbreak on his ship.
Crozier was “thrown overboard” in a move that will have “a chilling effect” on truth-telling in the armed forces, Smith declared at the time. “Dismissing a commanding officer for speaking out on issues critical to the safety of those under their command discourages others from raising similar concerns,” he warned.
When more than one hundred crew members contracted the pandemic, Crozier told the Pentagon, “Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the Theodore Roosevelt is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith those sailors entrusted to our care. We are not at war. Soldiers do not need to die.”
The firing was proof that Trump chaos had arrived at the Pentagon.
Crozier was fired by acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who said the captain “demonstrated extremely poor judgment.” Modly was forced to resign after he flew to Guam, boarded the carrier and made derogatory remarks about Crozier.