WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Monday that he fired Mark Esper as his defense secretary and said Christopher Miller would serve as the acting secretary of the Department of Defense.
"I am 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," Trump tweeted, announcing his first personnel move since losing the presidential election.
He added, "Chris will do a GREAT job! Mark Esper has been terminated. I would like to thank him for his service."
Esper's ouster was Trump's first personnel move since losing the election. Esper has been working with Congress recently to strip Confederate names from military bases, which Trump opposes.
Trump's announcement comes after NBC News reported last week that Esper had prepared a letter of resignation. NBC News has previously reported that Esper has long been at odds with Trump. The two disagreed, for example, about the use of active-duty troops to respond to protests across the nation this summer.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, excoriated the president in a statement on Monday, calling Esper's firing an attempt "to sow chaos."
“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."
She added, "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.”
Esper also distanced himself from Trump’s photo-op at St. John’s Episcopal Church after a crowd of protesters was violently dispersed from Lafayette Square during the protests over police brutality this summer.
Esper also said he would not support Trump invoking the Insurrection Act to quell civil unrest during the protests when Trump was threatening to do so.
Further, Esper attempted to cut funding in the Pentagon budget for Stars and Stripes, a newspaper for U.S. military personnel that has been published since the Civil War, which Trump pushed back on.
Esper said in a statement, "I am particularly proud of these accomplishments in light of the challenges we faced along the way: a global pandemic; confrontations with Iran and its proxies throughout the Middle East; continued deployment of troops into conflict zones; domestic civil unrest; malign behavior globally by Russia and China; and a charged political atmosphere here at home. Through thick and thin, however, we have always put People and Country first."
Esper had served as defense secretary since July 2019, taking over from Jim Mattis, who resigned from the role in late 2018. Mattis had also been critical of Trump's approach as commander in chief.
Miller, meanwhile, has served as director of the National Counterterrorism Center since August. Before that, he served as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and combating terrorism. Miller served in the military from 1983 to 2014, according to the Defense Department.
Given that Trump named Miller as the acting secretary, it's unlikely the president will formally nominate Esper's replacement before he leaves office in January. Once President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January, he will have the power to nominate his own secretary of defense, whom the Senate would have to confirm.