In a pair of tweets, Trump wrote that Esper had “been terminated” and that he would be replaced by National Counterterrorism Center Director Christopher Miller, who will lead the Pentagon in an acting capacity. Miller also worked on counterterrorism at the Department of Defense and at the National Security Council and is trusted by the president, according to a current and former defense official. this is the latest casualty in the president’s revolving door of top national security officials who fell on the wrong side of their boss.
The president noted that Mr. Miller had already been approved by the Senate for his current position, perhaps as a way to argue that the firing of a defense secretary should not be viewed as a sign of turmoil in the highest ranks of the nation’s national security structure.Mr. Esper’s departure means that Mr. Miller would — if he lasts — see out the end of the Trump administration at the Pentagon. While Mr. Trump has over two months left in office, it could still be a significant time, as Defense Department officials have privately expressed worries that the president might initiate operations, whether overt or secret, against Iran or other adversaries in his waning days in office.
Mr. Miller is a former Army Green Beret who participated in the liberation of Kandahar early in the war in Afghanistan. He also previously served as the top counterterrorism policy official in the National Security Council under the Trump White House. After that job, he briefly served in a top counterterrorism policy role at the Pentagon this year. He has been part of the Trump administration’s musical chairs on national security posts. It was only in August that Mr. Miller was named to replace Russ Travers, who was the acting head of the counterterrorism center. Mr. Miller began his military career as an enlisted infantryman in the Army Reserve in 1983. He also served as a military police officer in the District of Columbia National Guard. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1987 and became an Army Green Beret in 1993. In addition to his deployment to Afghanistan, he also served in Iraq in 2003, both with the Fifth Special Forces Group.
Mr. Esper’s downfall had been expected for months, after he took the rare step in June of disagreeing publicly with Mr. Trump and saying that active-duty military troops should not be sent to control the wave of protests in American cities. The president, who had threatened to use the Insurrection Act to do exactly that, was furious, officials said.
Mr. Esper, 56, a former secretary of the Army and a former Raytheon executive, became defense secretary in July 2019, after Mr. Trump withdrew the nomination of Patrick M. Shanahan, the acting defense secretary, amid an F.B.I. inquiry into allegations from Mr. Shanahan’s former wife that he had punched her in the stomach. Mr. Shanahan denied the accusations.