Secretary of Defense Mark Esper Fired; Others in Trump’s Crosshairs

Image Courtesy of BBC

By Jeremy Perillo

President Donald Trump announced via Twitter on November 16 that Secretary of Defense Mark Esper had been terminated. Christopher Miller, the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center will succeed Esper as Acting Secretary of Defense.

Trump and Esper’s relationship has remained rocky since June when the former Secretary made public that he did not support invoking the Insurrection Act amidst the civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd. The 1807 Act would allow the President to deploy active-duty troops domestically, in response to the civil unrest. 

“I say this not only as secretary of Defense, but also as a former soldier and a former member of the National Guard, the option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire situations,” said Esper. “We are not in one of those situations now.”

Given the Trump administration’s recent announcement to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq by January 15, the classified memo then-Secretary of Defense Esper sent to the President asserting disagreement of such a move, sheds some light on another contention in the Trump-Esper relationship. In early November, Esper sent a memo to the President stating that there was a unanimous agreement amongst top military officials that the U.S. should not draw down its troop presence in Afghanistan until various criteria were met.  

Those top military officials consist of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, as well as the leader of the U.S. Central Command and the Commander of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan. These officials agreed that Afghanistan had not met the criteria for a troop pullout. 

Firing Esper does seem relevant from a foreign policy perspective, given the President’s anticipated plans of decreasing U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq before leaving office on January 20. However, Christopher Krebs’s termination on November 17 appeared blatantly political.

As the President has yet to concede the election to President-elect Joe Biden and continues to claim allegations of election fraud, he fired the Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Chris Krebs, because of the agency’s claims that run contrary to the President’s claims.

“The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history,” said the report originating from various committees within the agency. “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

President Trump fired Krebs in a tweet, where he disputed the CISA report, sticking to his allegations of voter fraud.

“The recent statement by Chris Krebs on the security of the 2020 Election was highly inaccurate, in that there were massive improprieties and fraud – including dead people voting, Poll Watchers not allowed into polling locations, “glitches” in the voting machines which changed votes from Trump to Biden, late voting, and many more,” Trump tweeted. “Therefore, effective immediately, Chris Krebs has been terminated as Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.”

Given both Esper and Krebs’ firings in the past week, many are wondering who is next; some speculate it’s CIA Director Gina Haspel and FBI Director Christopher Wray. Haspel and Wray have found themselves in the crosshairs of the President as they have remained reluctant to investigate or give credence to the various claims against Joe Biden’s son Hunter and his various overseas business dealings. 

Amongst other issues, the heads of these intelligence organizations find themselves in a tricky situation as they try to defend and present unfettered intelligence, as compared to what might suit a narrative a presidential administration is attempting to maintain.

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