President Donald Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper on Monday, announcing the sudden shuffling of top national security officials during the final weeks of his term via Twitter.
"I am pleased to announce that Christopher C. Miller, the highly respected Director of National Counterterrorism Center (unanimously confirmed by the Senate), will be Acting Secretary of Defense, effective immediately," Trump tweeted Monday. "Mark Esper has been terminated. I would like to thank him for his service."
Esper was named acting defense secretary in June 2019, but he reportedly caught the president's ire after he publicly contradicted Trump in public in June, telling reporters at the Pentagon that troops should not be deployed inside the US to quell protests that had erupted over police killings of Black people.
Instead, Esper said the troops "should only be used as a matter of last resort."
The comments clashed with Trump's message on the campaign trail criticizing demonstrators and repeatedly threatening to deploy troops in response.
But Esper was not the only military official who spoke out against the president's threat of using the military to strong-arm demonstrators against racial violence. Gen. Mark A. Milley apologized to troops in June after he was seen walking across Lafayette Square in front of the White House for a photo op. Just minutes earlier, police had beaten demonstrators and reporters and shot tear gas at a peaceful protest gathered in the square to clear a path for the president to walk to nearby St. John's Episcopal Church to briefly pose in front of the cameras with a Bible.
After Trump's electoral defeat, NBC News reported that the secretary of defense had prepared a letter of resignation, yet it's not uncommon for members of the cabinet to do so after an election.
Shortly after the report was published, however, the Pentagon stated that Esper had no plans to resign from his position.
In the interview, Esper spoke about his term as secretary of defense, saying he tried to enact his vision despite tension with the White House and while "preserving my integrity in the process."
Esper also pushed back against critics who had called him a yes-man in the administration, dubbing him "yesper."
"My frustration is I sit here and say, 'Hm, 18 cabinet members. Who's pushed back more than anybody. Name another cabinet secretary that's pushed back," Esper told the publication. "Have you seen me on stage saying, 'Under the exceptional leadership of blah-blah-blah, we have blah-blah-blah-blah?'
“At the end of the day, it’s as I said — you’ve got to pick your fights,” he said. “I could have a fight over anything, and I could make it a big fight, and I could live with that —why? Who’s going to come in behind me? It’s going to be a real ‘yes man.’ And then God help us.”
In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Esper's firing seemed to signal that President Trump was "intent on using his final days in office to sow chaos."
She also noted reports that Esper's firing may have been in response to him pushing back against Trump's desire to send troops into the streets to confront protesters.
"It is concerning that reports show that his firing was an act fo retribution by the President, allegedly for Secretary Esper's refusal to send active-duty military troops to crack down on peaceful demonstrations against police brutality," the statement read. "Most disturbingly, however, the timing of the dismissal raises serious questions about Trump's planned actions for the final days of his administration."
Other democratic legislators also blasted Trump's decision Monday to fire Esper during his final days in the White House.
"This isn't a reality show Mr. President," Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota tweeted.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner also tweeted that the president could "still do a lot of damage" until Inauguration Day in January.
It's not yet clear how Esper learned about his firing, yet it has not been uncommon for the president to announce important, sudden decisions via Twitter.
In 2018, Trump unexpectedly announced the departure of then–secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who found out about the decision in a tweet.