September 16, 2020 at 8:42 AM EDT
As Pentagon chief shows some independence, Trump launches attacks but leaves him in office
Trump’s continued denigration of Pentagon officials highlights the fraught nature of his relationship with Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper weeks ahead of the election, as the president’s remarks undermine his Pentagon chief and threaten to erode confidence in one of the nation’s most trusted institutions.
Trump has considered firing Esper since at least June, according to three officials, when the defense chief disagreed with the president’s plan to use active-duty troops to quell protests in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd and other Black civilians. Since then, Esper has made several decisions seemingly at odds with Trump.
“I think the president vacillates on whether he thinks Mark should go or not,” said a senior Republican Party official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter candidly. “Sometimes, you know, Esper gets under his skin.”
By Dan Lamothe, Missy Ryan and Paul Sonne