President Donald Trump announced Monday afternoon that he has fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. It is the first Cabinet-level administration official he has fired since he lost the 2020 presidential election to his Democratic opponent Joe Biden, a defeat he has not yet acknowledged.
Trump said that his Pentagon chief will be replaced by National Counterterrorism Center Director Christopher Miller, who will oversee the Department of Defense in an acting capacity.
—Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2020
The president did not say why he fired Esper.
Fox News obtained Esper's resignation letter a few hours later, though it was fairly standard and not particularly revealing.
—Jennifer Griffin (@JenGriffinFNC) November 9, 2020
The news of Esper's firing follows an NBC News report Thursday that said that Esper already had his resignation letter ready to go. NBC also reported that Esper has been quietly working with Congress to rename bases named after Confederate leaders, something to which Trump is strongly opposed.
The chief Pentagon spokesman challenged the NBC report, tweeting Thursday evening that "Secretary of Defense Esper has no plans to resign, nor has he been asked to submit a letter of resignation."
But, as of Friday morning, as the president officially lost the election per projections by Decision Desk HQ, reports began to emerge that Trump planned to remove his defense secretary, as well as some other senior officials.
Esper's departure from the Pentagon is an unsurprising development given numerous reports in recent months that Trump has soured on his defense secretary.
There has been frequent talk of the president firing him since June, when Esper broke with Trump on whether or not active-duty military should be deployed to American cities to nationwide quell unrest.
Trump was furious with Esper, who had previously frustrated the president and other administration officials by going off-message, despite largely being seen as a yes man, according to multiple reports. Trump wanted to fire Esper, but he was ultimately talked out of doing so, The Wall Street Journal reported at the time.
In August, Bloomberg News reported that Trump had privately discussed firing Esper after the presidential election. The report also said that Esper had privately expressed an interest in stepping down.
A few days after the Bloomberg report came out, Trump was asked if he has ever considered firing Esper. He replied that he gets along with Esper, but he added, "I consider firing everybody."
In early September, NBC News reported that White House officials had been in discussion with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie about stepping in as the acting defense secretary should Trump fire Esper.
By October, more reports emerged suggesting that Esper's days at the Pentagon were coming to an end, with Axios reporting that Esper would be among several senior officials fired if Trump won re-election and then later The New York Times writing that "throughout the long corridors of the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper is widely seen as a dead man walking."
Several defense sources told CNN Thursday that Esper has long had a resignation letter ready should the president request it, though he would rather stay in his current position.
Esper became the secretary of defense in the summer of 2019 after the top Pentagon position was held by acting officials for roughly seven months following the sudden departure of former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who resigned in December 2018 over disagreements with Trump on the importance of alliances and following through on commitments, among other things.
Prior to becoming Trump's defense secretary, Esper was the secretary of the Army, a branch of the US armed forces in which he previously served after graduating from the West Point. As a member of the 101st Airborne Division, he took part in the 1990-1991 Gul War.
Before setting up shop in the Pentagon, Esper, who has a doctorate in public policy from George Washington University, served as a Senate staffer, a member of the Heritage Foundation, and Vice President of Government Relations for defense firm Raytheon.