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In the 24 hours after President Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Monday, three other top civilian leaders at the Pentagon quit or were ousted, replaced by Trump loyalists with controversial pasts. The "apparent purge" ushered in "hardcore MAGA-ites" at the top level of the Defense Department, Spencer Ackerman reports at The Daily Beast, and "it is currently unknown what mandate the new loyalists have at the Pentagon with over two months remaining in the Trump administration."
The lame-duck change in leadership has "put officials inside the Pentagon on edge and fueled a growing sense of alarm among military and civilian officials, who are concerned about what could come next," USA Today reports. "This is scary, it's very unsettling," one defense official told CNN. "These are dictator moves." Another senior defense official added "it appears we are done with the beheadings for now," at least at the Pentagon.
The Pentagon's No. 3 official, acting Undersecretary for Policy James Anderson, was replaced by his acting deputy, retired Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata, a controversial Fox News regular who withdrew his nomination for Anderson's spot because the GOP-led Senate Armed Services Committee wouldn't confirm him. Anderson himself was holding the No. 3 job because Trump fired the Senate-confirmed Pentagon policy chief, John Rood, in February.
Esper's chief of staff, Jen Stewart, was replaced by Kash Patel, a former senior aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) who played a leading role in crafting a dubious FBI "unmasking" memo and made a cameo in Trump's impeachment. Patel has a "very close" working relationship with new acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, an administration official told CNN.
And Trump named Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a top aide to former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn also implicated in the Nunes "unmasking" imbroglio, as the Pentagon's defense intelligence chief. He replaces Joseph Kernan. "That Ezra Cohen-Watnick is the acting undersecretary of defense for intelligence would be comical if it weren't so terrifying," a former Trump National Security Council official told The Daily Beast.
There are concerns that Miller, former head of the National Counterintelligence Agency, is in over his head. But at least he gets "high marks for his competence and integrity," Ackerman reports, and according to a former colleague, he "would not take part in a coup to keep Trump in office after the president lost re-election."
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