- The Washington Times
Monday, November 9, 2020

Outgoing Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper is proud of his record of standing up to President Trump and preserving his “integrity” amid a tense relationship with the White House, he said in an interview with the Military Times published Monday.

The interview, conducted on Nov. 4, was released minutes after Mr. Esper was abruptly fired by Mr. Trump via Twitter. The president said he would install National Counterterrorism Center Director Christopher Miller as acting defense secretary.

Mr. Esper, who clashed with the president on key issues over the past 18 months, said that virtually no other member of the Trump administration can match his record of standing up to the commander in chief. He said he tried to implement key policies such as the administration’s National Defense Strategy (NDS) despite conflict with the president.

“I guess my top line is, as I look back … despite a series of crises and conflicts ― and yes, occasional tension with the White House ― I think we’ve been really successful in transforming the department, implementing my top priority as the NDS, if you will, and then protecting the institution, which is really important to me,” Mr. Esper told the Military Times. “And then … fourth, I should say, preserving my integrity in the process

“My frustration is I sit here and say, ‘Hm, 18 Cabinet members. Who’s pushed back more than anybody?’ Name another Cabinet secretary that’s pushed back,” he said. “Have you seen me on a stage saying, ‘Under the exceptional leadership of blah-blah-blah, we have blah-blah-blah-blah?’ “

Mr. Esper has clashed with the president on efforts to strip the names of Confederate generals from Army bases and other issues. But the final straw came last June, when Mr. Esper publicly broke with Mr. Trump on a proposal to send active-duty troops to restore order amid nationwide racial justice protests and riots.

The firing of Mr. Esper comes just two days after multiple news outlets declared that Mr. Trump had been defeated in the presidential race by Democrat Joseph R. Biden, who is now the presumptive president-elect.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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