According to three top defense officials speaking to NBC News, the Trump administration’s current Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has prepared a letter of resignation — although as of the NBC article’s initial publication, Esper had not yet submitted this letter. Still, he seems to be ready to depart the administration on his own terms. NBC notes that it’s routine for top administration officials to draft letters of resignation after presidential elections in order to give the incumbent the opportunity to replace them during a potential second term if so desired. Esper, however, already isn’t exactly on Trump’s good side. NBC notes that Esper and Trump “disagreed on the use of active-duty U.S. military to quell protests this summer.”
Esper replaced James Mattis, a retired Marine general, in the role of Defense Secretary during Trump’s time in office. Like Esper, Mattis wasn’t exactly in Trump’s good graces by the end of his time in the administration. After controversy surrounding Trump’s readiness and willingness to turn the might of the military against the American people during intense protests for racial justice over the summer, Mattis hammered Trump’s behavior in a public statement in which he characterized Trump as essentially unfit for office. Mattis wrote that the country was “witnessing the consequences of three years of” Donald Trump’s “deliberate effort” to “divide” Americans.
In the Esper case, NBC reports that the current Defense Secretary also supports removing the names of Confederate leaders from military installations, which Trump openly opposes. Trump has claimed that removing the names of Confederate leaders from U.S. military installations would be some kind of affront against the legacy of the soldiers who have operated out of these facilities. Fact check: it wouldn’t. According to NBC, Esper “is helping members of Congress draft legislation that will strip names of Confederate leaders from military bases” instead of issuing a directive that could ultimately be overruled by the president. This legislation would be included in the National Defense Authorization Act, the defense spending authorization bill for next year — which Trump does apparently have to be convinced to sign.
Esper’s resignation letter may not have to be used. At the time of NBC’s report, election data suggested that Trump was on his way to losing his chance at another term in office. Biden flipped Michigan and Wisconsin, and some observers believed that an early Trump lead in Pennsylvania would be overcome as authorities counted ballots.