Politics

Trump loyalists elevated to powerful roles at the Pentagon after firing of Defense Secretary Esper

Key Points
  • The Pentagon elevated Trump loyalists to powerful positions a day after the sudden termination of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.
  • The moves also followed the resignations of multiple senior officials in the Defense Department.
  • In a lengthy statement released Tuesday afternoon, the Pentagon said that Anthony Tata, Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Kash Patel had been promoted to key roles.
Aerial view of the Pentagon building photographed on Sept. 24, 2017.
Bill Clark | CQ-Roll Call Group | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Tuesday elevated three Trump loyalists to powerful positions a day after the sudden termination of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and following the resignations of multiple senior officials in the Defense Department.

The latest revelation comes as President Donald Trump has rejected the results of last week's election. Trump has not conceded to Democrat Joe Biden, who on Saturday secured more than the 270 votes needed to win the presidency.

In a lengthy statement released Tuesday afternoon, the Pentagon said that Anthony Tata, Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Kash Patel had been promoted to key roles.

Tata is now working as the senior official performing the duties of the undersecretary of Defense for policy, following James Anderson's resignation.

Tata, a retired Army general who became a pro-Trump pundit on Fox News, joined the Defense Department earlier this year. Trump had nominated him to a role that required Senate confirmation, but lawmakers opposed Tata in the role, and the president instead named him to an acting role that didn't require confirmation. Tata has a history of Islamophobic comments and has called President Barack Obama a "terrorist leader."

VIDEO1:4701:47
Trump fires Defense Secretary Mark Esper

Cohen-Watnick is set to take over as the new acting undersecretary of Defense for intelligence and security, after Joseph Kernen resigned.

After being pushed out of the White House in 2017, following his tenure working for former national security advisor Michael Flynn, Cohen-Watnick rejoined the Trump administration earlier this year in a Pentagon role. Flynn was fired from his role and eventually pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Cohen-Watnick also worked for former Attorney General Jeff Sessions before Sessions was fired in 2018.

Replacing Jen Stewart, the chief of staff to the Defense secretary, is Kash Patel, a member of the National Security Council. Patel was a staffer for Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who worked to discredit the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential links between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

"I want to thank Dr. Anderson, Admiral Kernan and Jen Stewart for their service to the nation and the Department. Over their careers each has contributed greatly to the national defense and the future of the Department of Defense. We wish them the best in their next endeavors," acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller said in a statement.

On Monday, Trump announced on Twitter that he has "terminated" Esper and replaced him with Miller, director of the National Counterterrorism Center. The announcement came about five months after he and Esper had a public break over how to handle civil unrest in America's cities.

Esper, in an interview with the Military Times days before Trump fired him, warned of trouble if he were to be replaced.

"At the end of the day, it's as I said — you've got to pick your fights," Esper told the publication. "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."

Here is the full statement:

"As announced yesterday, November 9, President Trump has designated the National Counter Terrorism Center Director, Chris Miller, as the Acting Secretary of Defense.  Mr. Miller took over those functions and responsibilities mid-day yesterday. Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist remains in his position and continues to execute his responsibilities. 

Today, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Dr. James Anderson, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security Mr. Joseph Kernan and Chief of Staff to the Secretary of Defense, Jen Stewart submitted letters of resignation. 

Dr. Anderson submitted his letter of resignation to the President this morning, effective today.  The Acting Secretary of Defense has delegated the responsibilities of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy to Mr. Anthony Tata.  As such, Mr. Tata is the Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.  He previously was the Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.  Dr. Thomas Williams will now perform the duties of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.

As planned for several months, Under Secretary Kernan submitted his letter of resignation, effective today.  Current Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operation and Low-Intensity Conflict Ezra Cohen-Watnick will be the new Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security.  Mr. Ralph Cacci will continue to perform the duties of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security.

Also today, Ms. Stewart submitted her resignation from the position of Chief of Staff, effective today.  Mr. Kash Patel, currently on the National Security Council staff, has been named by Acting Secretary Miller as his Chief of Staff.

Acting Secretary of Defense Miller issued the following statement on these personnel changes:  'I want to thank Dr. Anderson, Admiral Kernan and Jen Stewart for their service to the nation and the Department.  Over their careers each has contributed greatly to the national defense and the future of the Department of Defense. We wish them the best in their next endeavors.'"