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by Luis Miguel November 11, 2020
By the end of the day on Tuesday, top officials overseeing policy, intelligence, and the defense secretary’s staff had all resigned and were replaced by political operatives with a strong loyalty to President Trump — operatives the media claim have delved in “deep state conspiracy theories.”
Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, accused the White House of gutting the Pentagon in a way that could be “devastating” for national security.
“It is hard to overstate just how dangerous high-level turnover at the Department of Defense is during a period of presidential transition,” Smith said. “If this is the beginning of a trend — the President either firing or forcing out national security professionals in order to replace them with people perceived as more loyal to him — then the next 70 days will be precarious at best and downright dangerous at worst.”
First on the list of post-Esper resignations was James Anderson, the acting policy chief at the Pentagon who had frequently clashed with the administration over the appointment of Trump allies to his department. Anderson has been replaced by Brigadier General Anthony Tata on a temporary basis.
Tata was a regular contributor to Fox News before joining the administration this year and had been nominated by President Trump for the top policy job. However, his nomination fell through over the summer after CNN publicized tweets in which he called Barack Obama a “terrorist leader” and referred to Islam as “most oppressive violent religion I know of.”
In addition, Tata ridiculed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Representative Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) on Twitter and shared an article promoting the theory that Obama was a “Manchurian candidate.” Tata later said he regretted the since-deleted tweets.
As the acting undersecretary for defense policy, Tata is now the principal advisor to the defense secretary on formulating the major national security and defense policy issues on everything from nuclear deterrence to missile defense to troop drawdowns.
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) was shocked that Tata would be put in such a prominent position.
“Trump’s Defense Department purge is deeply dangerous to our national security — first firing SecDef Esper by tweet & now promoting a known racist Islamophobe,” tweeted the Senate Armed Services Committee member.
Later on Tuesday, another swap occurred. Jen Stewart, chief of staff to the Secretary of Defense, resigned and was replaced with Kash Patel, a protege of House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) who, as a Hill staffer, played a major role in fighting the Russia probe and has held several roles in the Trump White House.
Patel joined the National Security Council’s International Organizations and Alliances directorate in February of 2019 and was promoted to a senior counterterrorism role at the NSC in mid-summer. He later became a top adviser in the Office of National Intelligence under former acting DNI Richard Grenell, and most recently served as a deputy assistant to President Trump and as the top White House counterterrorism official.
The third resignation on Tuesday was of Joseph Kernan, undersecretary of defense for intelligence. His temporary replacement is Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a close ally of embattled former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Cohen-Watnick has been critical of the CIA and the agency in turn “saw him as a threat,” a Washington consultant told Politico.
President Trump directly intervened to save Cohen-Watnick’s job after former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster tried to have him fired.
Esper himself has been replaced for the time being with Christopher C. Miller, a graduate from the Naval War College and Army War College who, during a military career spanning nearly 30 years, participated in combat operations in Afghanistan in 2001 and the second Iraq war in 2003. He was serving as the director of the National Counterterrorism Center before being tapped to head the Defense Department.
Representative Smith blasted the changes: “This confirms what I have been saying for months: The President’s singular obsession with loyalty has severely undermined the competence of our government and made us less safe. It is an insult to the American people to hamstring government, particularly during a period of presidential transition.”
Alexander Vindman, the former director for European affairs for the United States National Security Council (NSC) who spoke against President Trump during the impeachment hearings, was also among the Deep State fixtures to express outrage with the shakeup.