‘These are dictator moves’: Defence officials alarmed as Trump installs more loyalists at the Pentagon

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President Donald Trump with Defence Secretary Mark Esper, left. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images
  • President Donald Trump has filled a series of senior defence positions with loyalists, causing alarm among Pentagon officials.
  • Four defence officials, including Mark Esper, the defence secretary, and James Anderson, the acting undersecretary of defence for policy, have either resigned or been sacked since Trump lost the presidential election.
  • Anderson was replaced by Anthony Tata, a retired US Army brigadier general who made false claims about President Barack Obama including that he was a “terrorist leader,” CNN reported.
  • “This is scary. It’s very unsettling,” one defence official told CNN, adding, “These are dictator moves.”
  • Rep. Adam Smith, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the next few months could be “downright dangerous.”
  • Join us at 1 PM ET Thursday for a live chat with Insider politics reporter Tom LoBianco about what’s next for Republicans – and Trump.

President Donald Trump is continuing to replace senior defence officials with loyalists, creating alarm in the Pentagon that his rapid overhaul of key staffers could undermine national security.

Since Trump fired Secretary of Defence Mark Esper on Monday, three other Defence Department officials have either resigned or been sacked. James Anderson, the acting undersecretary of defence for policy,quit on Tuesday after clashing with the White House over its attempts to insert allies and controversial figures into top Pentagon positions, Politico reported.

Anderson was replaced by retired US Army Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata, an ally of Trump and a regular guest on Fox News. Tata has made several false and Islamophobic claims about former President Barack Obama in tweets unearthed by CNN, calling him a Muslim and a “terrorist leader” who “normalized Islam for America.”

Joseph Kernan, the undersecretary of defence for intelligence, and Jen Stewart, Esper’s chief of staff, also left their posts and were replaced by Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Kash Patel. Patel will serve as chief of staff to Christopher Miller, now the acting secretary of defence, CNN reported.

Both Cohen-Watnick and Patel are considered fiercely loyal to the outgoing president, The Associated Press reported.

There is reportedly a growing concern in the Pentagon that the flurry of personnel changes could just the beginning and that Trump’s decision-making could become more volatile as he continues to refuse to concede the election to President-elect Joe Biden.

“This is scary. It’s very unsettling,” a defence official told CNN, adding, “These are dictator moves.”

Officials told The Washington Post that Deputy Secretary of Defence David Norquist could be the next to be dismissed.

Rep. Adam Smith, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement on Tuesday that the “gutting” of the department ought to “alarm” Americans.

“It is hard to overstate just how dangerous high-level turnover at the Department of Defence is during a period of presidential transition,” he said. “The top policy professional in the Department resigning the day after the Secretary of Defence was fired could mark the beginning of a process of gutting the DoD — something that should alarm all Americans.”

Smith added that “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.”

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal echoed Smith’s national-security concerns.

“Trump’s Defence Department purge is deeply dangerous to our national security,” Blumenthal tweeted,adding that the outgoing president’s “personal vendettas & temper tantrums supersede our national security.”