President Trump has reportedly used words like “suckers, losers and warmongers” to describe American war heroes and Pentagon brass. USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – President Trump has made wholesale changes in the Pentagon’s top civilian leadership, a purge that began with the firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper and continued Tuesday through the senior ranks.
Three top senior officials resigned on Tuesday, including the under secretaries for policy and intelligence. Esper’s chief of staff also resigned. The moves sparked concern on Capitol Hill that perceived instability at the Pentagon could embolden U.S. adversaries during the presidential transition.
James Anderson, the acting under secretary for policy, the Pentagon’s No. 3 spot, resigned Tuesday and was replaced by Anthony Tata, a retired Army general who once called former President Barack Obama a “terrorist leader.” Tata had withdrawn his name for that Pentagon post in August before facing a contentious confirmation hearing in the Senate. He was then placed in another job that did not require a hearing.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called the changes alarming.
“It is hard to overstate just how dangerous high-level turnover at the Department of Defense is during a period of presidential transition,” Smith said in a statement. “The top policy professional in the department resigning the day after the Secretary of Defense was fired could mark the beginning of a process of gutting the DoD – something that should alarm all Americans.”
“If this is the beginning of a trend – the president either firing or forcing out national security professionals in order to replace them with people perceived as more loyal to him – then the next 70 days will be precarious at best and downright dangerous at worst.”
Also on Tuesday, the undersecretary for Defense intelligence, Joseph Kernan, and Esper’s former chief of staff, Jen Stewart resigned. On Monday, Trump fired Esper on Twitter and replaced him with acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller.
“I want to thank Dr. Anderson, Admiral Kernan and Jen Stewart for their service to the nation and the Department,” Miller said in a statement. “Over their careers each has contributed greatly to the national defense and the future of the Department of Defense. We wish them the best in their next endeavors.”
White House officials said Trump wanted his own team at the Pentagon should he prevail with his legal challenges to the balloting. As for policy, officials said he has long wanted to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, but they did not know if he plans to issue an order to that effect in his last two months in office. They noted that generals at the Pentagon would resist such an order.
About 4,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan. Trump has been pushing for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, negotiating with the Taliban to help end the American involvement there that began in 2001. Pentagon officials insist that the withdrawal should be based on security conditions there.
“This confirms what I have been saying for months: the President’s singular obsession with loyalty has severely undermined the competence of our government and made us less safe,” Smith said. “It is an insult to the American people to hamstring government, particularly during a period of presidential transition.”