The Pentagon has denied an NBC News report claiming that Defense Secretary Mark Esper had prepared his resignation, a move that would leave the United States without its second-highest military official, as presidential elections, which resulted in divisions, extended over a third day with no declared winner.
“The history of NBC is inaccurate and in many ways misleading. To be clear, Defense Secretary Esper has no plans to resign, nor has he been asked to submit a letter of resignation,” Jonathan Hoffman, Esper’s deputy secretary of public affairs, told Washington Newsday.
The news first appeared Thursday in an NBC News article quoting three unnamed defense officials. The paper said such letters were not unusual after an election, a gesture that gives the president the opportunity to approve or disapprove of a cabinet member’s continued tenure.
Hoffman said, however, that there was no truth in the rumors about Esper’s departure.
“To the president’s delight, he continues to serve the nation as defense minister and is working on the irreversible implementation of the National Defense Strategy,” Hoffman said. “The speculation about possible resignations of cabinet members is an annoying, hackneyed post-election DC insider game.
Esper, who was appointed last year after the resignation of his predecessor James Mattis, is second only to Commander-in-Chief President Donald Trump himself when it comes to authority over U.S. forces.
Trump is facing a close election campaign, with ballots still trickling in the major states about three days after the start of the election campaign. Although Trump has lost an early lead to former Democratic vice president Joe Biden, he has declared victory and accuses him of national electoral fraud, as postal ballots have turned the tide in key areas where momentum is now favoring his opponent.
Esper, a veteran and former lobbyist for defense contractors before joining Trump’s cabinet as Secretary of the U.S. Army, has remained silent on the election itself. He recently returned from a series of trips to Asia that took him and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to India last month, and later saw Esper take a previously unannounced trip to Israel and Bahrain.
Like Mattis, Esper was increasingly at odds with the President and made statements that at times contradicted the official line taken by the White House.
One of the most notable incidents occurred in June, when Esper resisted Trump’s threats to use U.S. forces to suppress nationwide protests following the death of civilian George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. Esper said he did not believe that such a move was necessary at the time.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany reaffirmed his continued employment with reporters, but he gave assurance by saying, “If the President loses faith, we will all hear about it in the future.
A further split seemed to emerge in August, after Trump tweeted that he “totally rejected” a cost-cutting plan by the Pentagon to cut $2.2 billion from military health care, as reported by Politico. Esper later said that he had not agreed to such a cut in the first place.
In the recent strike against Trump, NBC News reported that Esper was in the process of working with lawmakers to add language to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and rename bases named after Confederate leaders. Trump has been strongly opposed to such efforts and would ultimately have to approve the law in order for it to pass.
This is developing news. More information will be added as it becomes available.