A day after President Donald Trump sacked Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, three loyal supporters of the President were appointed to high-level positions in the defense department.
Among them is a former Fox News columnist who failed to go through the Senate approval process due to offensive remarks, including about Islam.
The sudden changes sparked nervousness at the Pentagon, as civilian and military officials were eager to anticipate what would happen next. The appointments have heightened fears of new layoffs of people deemed insufficiently loyal to Trump.
When James Anderson, the acting undersecretary of defense for political affairs, resigned on Tuesday morning, he was promptly replaced by retired General Anthony Tata.
Navy Vice Admiral Joseph Kernan resigned from his position as Undersecretary for Intelligence shortly thereafter, expediting a previously planned post-election withdrawal. Kernan was replaced by Ezra Cohen-Vatnik, who became the acting deputy minister.
The reshuffle took place on the second day of Christopher Miller’s job as head of the defense department. Miller also brought in his chief of staff, Cash Patel, who will succeed Jen Stewart, who served under Esper.
Patel and Cohen-Vatnik are considered loyal Trump supporters and previously served on the National Security Council.
The media linked Patel to efforts to discredit the investigation into ties between Trump’s headquarters and Russia.
Cohen-Vatnik was a protégé of Michael Flynn’s first national security adviser, but was replaced by Flynn’s successor Herbert McMaster in the summer of 2017 in a series of White House and National Security Council reshuffles.
While the personnel reshuffle has intensified the turmoil since Esper’s departure, it is unclear how much of an impact they will have on the massive Pentagon bureaucracy.
The Department of Defense is based on the principle of civilian control of the armed forces, and much of the day-to-day work is done by career political experts and military leaders in the United States and around the world, who maintain a strict chain of command.
This is Trump’s second attempt to appoint Tatu to this political office. The president had already nominated him for the post earlier this year, but the Senate canceled hearings on Tata’s candidacy when it became clear that it would be difficult or even impossible for him to get approval.
In 2018, Tata was reported to have posted tweets calling Islam “the most oppressive and violent religion” he knows, as well as calling ex-President Barack Obama “a terrorist leader” and declaring him a Muslim. These tweets were later deleted.