U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday said Defense Secretary Mark Esper had been “terminated,” a stunning move on the heels of Trump’s failed reelection bid.
Presidents who win reelection often replace Cabinet members, including the secretary of defense, but losing presidents have kept their Pentagon chiefs in place until Inauguration Day to preserve stability in the name of national security.
Trump announced the news in a tweet, saying that “effective immediately” Christopher Miller, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, will serve as acting secretary, sidestepping the department’s No.2-ranking official, Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist.
“Chris will do a GREAT job!” Trump tweeted. “Mark Esper has been terminated. I would like to thank him for his service.”
Trump has steadfastly refused to acknowledge his election loss.
Esper’s strained relationship with Trump came close to collapse last summer during civil unrest that triggered a debate within the administration over the proper role of the military in combatting domestic unrest. Esper’s opposition to using active duty troops to help quell protests in Washington, D.C., infuriated Trump, and led to wide speculation that the defense chief was prepared to quit if faced with such an issue again.
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The Pentagon had no immediate comment.
Officials familiar with internal discussions say Esper has been ready to resign for months, and as rumblings about Trump’s unhappiness with him have grown, he’s taken additional steps to prepare to step down.
Reuters contributed to this report.