WH Has Talked to Wilkie About Taking Over at Pentagon If Esper Fired
White House officials have talked to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie about taking the top Pentagon job if President Donald Trump follows through with his months-long threat to fire Defense Secretary Mark Esper, NBC News reported on Monday.
Wilkie was one of several possible replacements for Esper whom the White House informally interviewed this summer about serving as defense secretary, officials said. The option of naming Wilkie, who is already a Senate-confirmed member of the Cabinet, as acting Pentagon chief would give Trump the flexibility to remove Esper immediately after the November election, if not before.
Two senior administration officials said the president has not ruled out the possibility of replacing Esper before the election, although some of Trump’s allies have advised him to wait until afterwards.
Esper is Trump’s third defense secretary in just over a year. He was confirmed by the Senate in July, succeeding acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who replaced James Mattis.
Trump’s allies have told him that changing leadership at the Pentagon before the election would create turmoil in his administration and come at a time when the president is planning to reduce the number of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The White House, Veterans Affairs Department and Pentagon declined to comment on the record.
Esper’s standing with Trump has taken a hit this summer, after he broke with the president on several high-profile issues, including saying he would not support using the Insurrection Act to put down civil unrest nationwide, even though Trump was leaving open the option of doing so.
Published at Mon, 07 Sep 2020 14:10:12 +0000