Trump loyalists get best Pentagon jobs after Defense Secretary sacked

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A day after US President Donald Trump sacked Defense Secretary Mark Esper, three loyalists loyal to the president were appointed to senior defense positions. Among them was a former Fox News commentator who failed to secure Senate confirmation due to offensive remarks he made, including about Islam.The abrupt changes sent reverberations across the Pentagon as nervous civilian and military personnel waited for the next shoe to drop. And they have fueled fears of a larger effort to eliminate anyone seen as not being loyal enough to Trump.

Unease was palpable inside the building throughout the day amid concerns about what the Trump administration might do in the months leading up to President-elect Joe Biden taking office and whether there will be a more great effort to politicize the historically apolitical army. While sweeping political changes seem unlikely before the Jan. 20 inauguration, the changes could still hurt prospects for a smooth transition already hampered by Trump’s refusal to concede electoral loss.

James Anderson, who had served as acting Under Secretary for Policy, resigned Tuesday morning and was quickly replaced by Anthony Tata, a retired Army One Star General and Fox News commentator.

Shortly after, Joseph Kernan, a retired Navy vice-admiral, resigned his post as Under-Secretary of Intelligence, precipitating what had been an already planned post-election departure. Kernan has been replaced by Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who becomes Acting Under Secretary for Intelligence.

The second time Trump tried to get Tata’s job

This is Trump’s second attempt to secure Tata’s political work. Earlier this year, Trump appointed Tata to the post, but the Senate canceled a hearing on the appointment when it became clear that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to have it confirmed. Tata withdrew his name from consideration for the post, which is the department’s third-highest post. Trump then appointed Tata to fill the post of Deputy Under Secretary.

According to reports, Tata posted tweets in 2018 calling Islam the “most oppressive violent religion that I know of,” and he called former President Barack Obama a “terrorist leader” and called him a Muslim. The tweets were then deleted.

At the time of the Tata Senate hearing, Democratic Representative Adam Smith, and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Trump should not prioritize loyalty over competence and install someone. ‘one in a post if’ the appointee could not win the support of the Senate, this is clearly the case with Tata. ”

The departures took place on the second day of Christopher Miller as Chief of Defense. Miller also brought in his own chief of staff, Kash Patel, to replace Jen Stewart, who had worked in that role for Esper. Patel and Cohen-Watnick are both considered loyal to Trump and have previously worked on the National Security Council.

Christopher Miller, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, became acting defense secretary after Trump announced he had “fired” Esper. (Tom Williams / Pool via Reuters)

Patel was among the small group of aides who traveled extensively with Trump during the latter phase of the campaign. He is also a former prosecutor in the National Security Division of the US Department of Justice and a former staff member of the House Intelligence Committee. In this position, he was one of the main collaborators of Republican Republic Devin Nunes, leading the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Patel has been linked in media accounts to efforts to discredit the investigation into the Trump campaign’s links to Russia. He joined the National Security Council in February 2019, and earlier this year visited Syria for rare high-level talks aimed at securing the release of two Americans who have been missing for years, including journalist Austin Tice.

Cohen-Watnick was a protégé of Trump’s senior national security adviser Michael Flynn but was replaced in the summer of 2017 by Flynn’s successor HR McMaster in a series of White House reshuffles and the National Security Council.

Esper was sacked from his post as Defense Secretary on Monday. (The Associated Press)

The impact of appointments is unclear

While the personnel changes have added to the uproar in the wake of Esper’s departure, it’s unclear what impact they could have on the Pentagon’s massive bureaucracy. The department is rooted in the principle of civilian control of the military, and much of the day-to-day operations are carried out by career policy experts and military leaders in the United States and around the world who adhere to a chain of strict command.

In addition, many of Trump’s defense policies and priorities have already been implemented by Esper and his predecessors, guided by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including the President, Army Gen. Mark Milley. All these military leaders remain in place.

Yet there has been a continuing uproar in the Pentagon’s political workshop. John Rood was forced to resign as Under Secretary for Policy in February after angering the White House for warning against the suspension of US aid to Ukraine, the issue which has leads to the dismissal of the president.

Tata will “perform the duties” of the position of Under-Secretary rather than hold the title “interim”. Civil servants who carry the acting title have more authority than those who “perform the duties” of the position.

Defense officials said Miller, who was previously director of the National Counterterrorism Center, continues to meet with staff and learn about the Pentagon and its wide range of complex and critical national security issues and missions. .

Anderson’s departure was first reported by Politico.

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