Installation of Trump loyalists at Pentagon seen as 'dangerous'

As of yesterday, several of the Pentagon's top leaders are folks you might not trust to run a lemonade stand.
This picture taken 26 December 2011 show
An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington on Dec. 26, 2011.AFP - Getty Images file

The latest wave of trouble at the Pentagon started in earnest on Monday -- the first weekday after Joe Biden became the nation's president-elect -- when Donald Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Since both the president and the cabinet secretary are poised to leave office in a couple of months, there was no obvious need for Esper's ouster.

As NBC News noted yesterday, this was just the start of a dramatic and rapid shake-up at the Pentagon.

Several loyalists to President Donald Trump were promoted to top roles in the Defense Department on Tuesday after officials resigned following the unceremonious ouster of Defense Secretary Mark Esper. The Pentagon confirmed the resignations of the department's top officials for policy and intelligence in a statement.

In the wake of the Defense secretary's firing, James Anderson, the Pentagon's acting policy chief, also resigned after a series of disagreements with the White House about the president trying to stack the Pentagon with Trump loyalists. Anderson was quickly replaced with retired Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata -- a former Fox News regular and right-wing conspiracy theorist, who couldn't be confirmed to a DOD post in a Republican-led Senate, and who's perhaps best known for having described Barack Obama as a "terrorist leader."

Tata will now oversee policy matters at the Pentagon, a position he's likely to hold until Jan. 20.

But that's just the start. Joseph Kernan, the undersecretary for intelligence, also stepped down, and will be replaced by Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a former aide to Michael Flynn, the disgraced former White House national security adviser.

Jen Stewart, the Defense Department's chief of staff, has also stepped down. Her successor will be Kash Patel, a controversial former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and someone best known for his work trying to discredit the investigation into Trump's Russia scandal.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that the Pentagon general counsel, "under pressure from the White House," has turned to former GOP political operative Michael Ellis to serve as the top lawyer at the National Security Agency.

If Ellis' name sounds at all familiar, he's the guy accused of transferring the infamous Trump/Zelensky call summary -- the one that led to the president being impeached for having launched an illegal extortion scheme -- to a top-secret computer server.

Politico added that the installation of Trump loyalists and those who've trafficked in "deep state" conspiracy theories in key roles is "setting off alarms on Capitol Hill."

House Armed Services Chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said, "It is hard to overstate just how dangerous high-level turnover at the Department of Defense is during a period of presidential transition. If this is the beginning of a trend — the President either firing or forcing out national security professionals in order to replace them with people perceived as more loyal to him — then the next 70 days will be precarious at best and downright dangerous at worst."

The congressman added that Team Trump's efforts could prove "devastating" for U.S. national security.

In case this isn't obvious, the Pentagon is one of the largest and most powerful institutions on the planet. As of yesterday, several of its top leaders are folks you might not trust to run a lemonade stand.

If we're fortunate, there won't be a national security crisis between now and Inauguration Day, which is now 70 days away.