WASHINGTON — President Trump wants to replace Mark Esper after the November election because of his defense secretary’s hesitation to deploy active US military to quell violent protests, a report said Wednesday.
Esper, who was named secretary in July 2019, has told people close to him that he plans to leave regardless of the outcome of November’s presidential election, Bloomberg News reported.
Rumors of Esper’s potential ouster have circulated for months as the commander-in-chief and his fourth defense secretary disagreed on everything from the Confederate flag being displayed on military bases to the use of the military to quell violence in US cities.
The president confronted Esper during an Oval Office meeting June 3 just hours after the defense chief said during a press conference that he did not support Trump’s idea of using the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty military troops to cities experiencing unrest after the death of George Floyd, Bloomberg reported.
Trump reportedly consulted advisers on firing Esper but for now has shelved the plan.
When asked if his job was safe during a briefing later that day, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany demurred.
“As of right now, Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper and should the president lose faith, we will all learn about that in the future,” McEnany said.
According to the Bloomberg News report, Trump is also frustrated that Esper has not done more to publicly defend him on key issues including reports that Russia offered the Taliban bounties to kill US soldiers.
During the June 3 briefing, Esper also told reporters he regretted joining the president and other senior administration officials for a “photo op” outside St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House after troops cleared demonstrators.
In a statement Wednesday, the Pentagon said the secretary had served the US for 38 years after he became at cadet at West Point, and did so “at the pleasure of the president.”