Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey warned Tuesday that Americans are “watching a slow moving Trump coup to defy the Biden election and refuse to leave office by diktat,” following reports that Pentagon leaders are being removed and replaced with individuals loyal to President Trump.
McCaffrey linked to a Washington Post op-ed by Josh Rogin, in which Rogin argued that “the crisis at the top of the Pentagon is just beginning.”
Rogin noted that Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Monday, which was only the start of removals at the Pentagon.
On Tuesday, the purge widened dramatically as the White House asked for the resignations of three more top Pentagon officials: Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Anderson, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Joseph Kernan and Pentagon Chief of Staff Jen Stewart. All three are being replaced by staffers more loyal to Trump’s political agenda. Officials said Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist could be the next White House target for dismissal.
Rogin also noted that “all eyes are on Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley, who has fallen out of favor with many inside the White House.”
“These are major shake-ups. But getting rid of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs would be an earthquake,” he wrote, continuing: “Milley has no intention to resign, several officials told me, adding that Trump has made no decision yet to call for his resignation.”
Meanwhile, MAGA loyalists are moving in to take advantage of the vacancies already created. Anderson’s sudden departure leaves the Pentagon’s policy shop in the hands of Anthony Tata, a Trump loyalist who once called President Barack Obama a “terrorist leader.”
Tata withdrew his previous nomination in August for the undersecretary job amid criticism from lawmakers about his past statements and lack of qualifications. He has been serving since then as an “official performing the duties of the deputy undersecretary of defense for policy,” a Pentagon statement said.
Several officials told me that a group of Trump loyalists is seizing the opportunity to purge the Pentagon (and several other agencies) largely without close supervision from the president, who remains focused on fighting the outcome of the election. By installing themselves in top jobs, these officials are stalling the transition, settling scores and advancing their own ambitions. Many officials in the agencies they are taking over are also now wondering whether the loyalists’ plan includes helping Trump resist leaving office.
Rogin wrote that the “moment of truth” will be revealed “if and when the General Services Administration certifies that Joe Biden won the election, making it the law of the land.”
Trump may order his officials not to comply. That could force every senior official, including Milley, to choose between following the law or staying loyal to the president.
If such a development comes to pass, the continuing crisis atop the Pentagon and across the government would reach a new and dangerous level, leaving our country during this fraught transition even more unstable and unsafe than it has already become.
Image credit: Screengrab / @mccaffreyr3 / Twitter