Trump loyalists get top Pentagon jobs after Esper firing

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A day after Donald Trump fired Defence Secretary Mark Esper, three staunch loyalists to the president have been appointed to senior defence jobs.

Among them was a former Fox News commentator who failed to pass Senate confirmation because of offensive remarks he made, including about Islam.

The abrupt changes sent reverberations through the Pentagon as nervous civilian and military personnel waited for more developments. And they fuelled worries of a wider effort to drum out anyone considered not loyal enough to Mr Trump.

The unease was palpable inside the building throughout the day over concerns about what the Trump administration may do in the months before President-elect Joe Biden takes office, and whether there will be a greater effort to politicise the historically apolitical military.

While radical policy shifts seem unlikely before the January 20 inauguration, the changes could further damage prospects for a smooth transition already hampered by Mr Trump’s refusal to concede his election loss.

New defence chief Christopher Miller

James Anderson, who had been acting under-secretary for policy, resigned on Tuesday morning and was quickly replaced by Anthony Tata, a retired army one-star general.

A short time later, Joseph Kernan, a retired navy vice-admiral, stepped down as under-secretary for intelligence, hastening what had been an already planned post-election departure. Mr Kernan was replaced by Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who becomes acting under-secretary for intelligence.

The departures came on Christopher Miller’s second day on the job as defence chief. Mr Miller also brought in his own chief of staff in Kash Patel, who, like Mr Cohen-Watnick, is considered staunchly loyal to Mr Trump and previously worked at the National Security Council.

Mr Patel was among the small group of aides who travelled with Mr Trump extensively during the final stretch of the campaign. He is also a former prosecutor in the national security division of the Department of Justice and former staff member on the House Intelligence Committee. In that post, he was a top aide to Republican representative Devin Nunes, leading the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mr Patel was linked in media accounts to efforts to discredit the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

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