Despite the fact that he will be leaving office in January, President Donald Trump has released his Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. He confirmed the news Monday on Twitter. A successor is already in place.

Trump and his administration only have a few weeks left in the White House after losing the election to Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

Who Will Succeed Esper?

The news broke on Monday afternoon local time that Trump had announced a change in his cabinet and released Secretary of Defense Mark Esper from his duties.

“Mark Esper has been terminated. I would like to thank him for his service,” the president wrote on Twitter. Esper’s successor is Christopher Miller, as Trump also confirmed via the platform.

Miller previously served as the Pentagon’s chief special operations officer and also served on Trump’s National Security Council. As an army officer, he also took part in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only this past August, Miller became director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center.

Esper’s Dismissal was a Long Time Coming

Rumors of Esper’s dismissal had been circulating in Washington for months. However, such a step was anticipated in the aftermath of the election, especially in the event of a Trump victory.

Esper’s dismissal puts the Pentagon in yet another phase of leadership change as military officials seek to keep the US military prepared to deal with threats from Asia and resolve domestic political tensions.

Trump’s and Esper’s relationship has reportedly been strained since summer. The main reasons for the tension were protests against racism and police violence, in which the president presented himself as a hardliner and threatened to end the unrest in the country with military force if necessary.

Esper Was Not in Line With Trump’s Ideas

To do this, Trump would have had to activate the Insurrection Act of 1807, which allows the US president to deploy the US military domestically under certain circumstances.

Esper spoke out against using the US military to stop the unrest and visibly distanced himself from Trump on the matter. He described such a step as a “last resort” that should only be used in the “most urgent and worst situations.”

The fact that the Pentagon’s incumbent head is so publicly at a distance from the commander-in-chief is highly unusual and was not well received by Trump. US media reported at the time, citing Trump’s inner circle, that the president had already raised the question at the time of replacing Esper for the perceived insubordination.

In addition, there were disagreements about how to deal with the Confederate flag, among other things, which had come into focus in the racism debate in the US.

Esper had ordered that the flag be banned from all military facilities across the nation. However, he had avoided an open confrontation with Trump by renouncing an express ban on the flag.

Trump’s ‘Execution List’

Last Thursday, NBC reported that Esper had already prepared a resignation letter because he had long expected to be fired after the election. Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman had previously rejected the report, saying that the minister had no plans to resign and was not asked to resign.

Rumors of Esper’s possible firing and other government officials in the wake of the election persisted to the last. At the end of October, Axios published a report that spoke of a “Trump post-election execution list”, arguing the president sought to fire FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director of foreign Gina Haspel, and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper if he won reelection against Biden.

Numerous layoffs, dismissals, and resignations within the administration have marked Trump’s tenure, which has seen the most severe staff turnover in decades. Esper succeeded General James Mattis at the Pentagon’s head after Mattis resigned in December 2018 over strategic disagreements with Trump.