President Donald Trump fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, but before he did, the Pentagon chief left behind a subtle warning about the dangers of leaving Trump unchecked.
Esper told Military Times last Wednesday that he was not a yes-man, as his critics have said, and revealed that there was "occasional tension with the White House." He explained that when dealing with the president, you have "got to pick your fights" and just try and "make the best out of it."
While there were rifts in the relationship, Esper was aligned with Trump on a majority of issues and spoke positively of his leadership on more than one occasion, but in the interview with Military Times, he argued that he regularly pushed back on the president, perhaps more so than other Cabinet officials.
Esper, who reportedly expected to be fired, said that if he were to leave, whoever comes after him might be more inclined to let Trump do as he pleases.
"Who's going to come in behind me? It's going to be a real 'yes-man.' And then God help us," he told Military Times, the apparent implication being that a defense secretary who gives Trump exactly what he wants when he wants could be a disaster.
On Monday, Trump announced that Esper had been "terminated" and that he would be replaced by National Counterterrorism Center Director Christopher Miller, who will oversee the Department of Defense in an acting capacity.
As The Washington Post noted, Esper's recent comments to Military Times reflect some of what has been heard from his predecessor, former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who resigned in December 2018 over disagreements with Trump.
Following the forceful clearing of protesters from a park near the White House for a photo op and Trump's threat to send the military into American cities to quell unrest in June, events that led Esper to publicly break with the president, Mattis wrote that he was "angry and appalled."
"Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try," Mattis wrote in a statement provided to The Atlantic.
"Instead," the retired Marine Corps general continued, "he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership."
In Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward's book "Rage," he reports that Mattis told former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats that Trump is "dangerous" and "unfit."
Trump lost his bid for re-election to his Democratic rival Joe Biden last week, though the results are still being contested as the president refuses to concede, and is now a lame duck president. Beyond firing his officials, Democrats are concerned about what he might do with his final months in office.