And so the purge is on.
Having lost his re-election bid for the US presidency, Donald Trump is now lashing out at those who disappointed him during his turbulent administration.
Analysts fear losing will make Trump angry, embittered … possibly even less willing to stay within the lines of acceptable behavior.
A vengeful president with his finger on the nuclear trigger, which could end all life on earth. Ponder that, for a moment.
The first to go is his defense secretary, Mark Esper, who was fired via Twitter, of all things — an indication that the transition to the new administration of president-elect Joe Biden, is going to be rocky.
According to media outlets, the president declared he was “pleased to announce that Christopher C Miller, the highly respected director of the National Counterterrorism Center (unanimously confirmed by the Senate), will be acting secretary of defense, effective immediately.
“Chris will do a GREAT job! Mark Esper has been terminated. I would like to thank him for his service.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn’t mince words in a statement issued shortly afterward.
“The abrupt firing of Secretary Esper is disturbing evidence that President Trump is intent on using his final days in office to sow chaos in our American Democracy and around the world,” she said.
“Continuity and stability are always important during a presidential transition; they are absolutely imperative at this moment, as this historically erratic Administration prepares for its departure.
“Again and again, Trump’s recklessness endangers our national security. It is disturbing and dangerous that, at this precarious moment, our military will now be led by an official who has not been confirmed for this position by the Senate,” Pelosi said.
While the mad bull in a tea shop theory about Trump has validity, Esper had been at odds with Trump on a number of issues, most importantly his insistence at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests that there were no legal grounds to deploy active-service troops in US cities, The Guardian reported.
He was also working with Congress on legislation to rename US army bases named after Confederate generals. In a final interview Esper predicted that he would be followed by a “yes man,” adding “And then God help us.”
Miller arrived at the Pentagon on Monday amid questions about the legality of his appointment. By law, the deputy secretary of defence, currently David Norquist, would become acting secretary in the event of a sudden departure at the top.
Furthermore, the law requires that a secretary of defence to have been out of active duty military service for seven years. Miller, a former Green Beret, only left the military in 2014.
The law can be sidestepped by a vote in Congress, as was done for Esper’s predecessor James “Mad Dog” Mattis, a retired marine.
In the face of Trump’s widely reported fury of his intransigence, Esper stopped giving press briefings in the Pentagon in July.
He is reported to have written his resignation letter before the election, and Trump may have moved abruptly to prevent his defence secretary from taking the initiative.
The president also insisted he fired Mattis in December 2018, even though Mattis’s critical resignation letter had been widely circulated.
Trump soured on Mattis over his opposition to the administration’s abrupt decision — later to be rescinded — to pull all US troops out of Syria.
The split reflected Trump’s fundamental failure to value international defense alliances and the importance of shielding the military from domestic partisan politics.
Though Trump has not conceded defeat in the presidential election, Miller will only have a little more than two months in the role before Biden enters the White House.
Trump came close to firing Esper on 3 June when the former Raytheon arms executive publicly contradicted the president over the potential use of the 1807 Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty military units against protests in Washington and other cities.
Esper said the circumstances did not justify the use of the act, which can empower a president to send troops into states against the wishes of local authorities.
Trump had threatened to invoke the law two days earlier. Following Esper’s remarks, the White House noted it was a decision for the president alone.
Esper had also given orders for a battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division and military police units to return to base after they had been flown to the Washington area. He reversed the withdrawal order after visiting the White House, but the troops were withdrawn a few days later.
Esper and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen Mark Milley, were heavily criticized by former senior defence officials and military leaders, for appearing alongside Trump at a June 1 photo op outside a church near the White House, after the surrounding area had been brutally cleared by police using teargas, mounted police and baton charges.
(Update: Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s final memo to Pentagon staff)