One of the nation’s top officials, former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, was fired by former President Donald Trump because internally, he dared to challenge administration policies rife with prejudice and in public, Trump loyalists saw him as a saboteur in their midst, according to a newly released memo.
The memo was released Wednesday by Jonathan Karl, chief Washington correspondent for ABC News, and comes after Karl published an excerpt on Tuesday from his upcoming book, Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show in The Atlantic.
The memo, like the excerpt, illuminates the fragile teetering of Trump’s presidency into a full-blown paranoid authoritarian state.
Esper was fired, according to the memo, because he (among a dozen or so other reasons) barred the display of a Confederate flag on a military installation and because he “publicly opposed” Trump’s call for troops to clear out protesters outside of the White House.
Esper “consumed” too much of the Defense Department’s time on Russia and was “actively pushing for ‘diversity and inclusion’” at the department while expressing “disinterest” in supporting Trump’s inhumane military transgender ban.
Even now, a year removed from the 2020 election, when one starts to pull at the threads barely holding together the moldering moth-eaten sweater that was Donald Trump’s single-term, impeachment-marred presidency, the discoveries are deeply unsettling.
Trump’s disdain for even a hint of opposition in his ranks is no surprise. But part of what makes the Esper memo so disturbing is its inception and origin.
The memo, and therefore the decision to fire Esper, was authored and engineered, as Karl reports, by John McEntee, a man most Americans might not have known by name during the Trump years and even up until Tuesday, when the select congressional committee investigating the Capitol insurrection subpoenaed McEntee.
So who is John McEntee?
Karl gives McEntee great scrutiny in the excerpt published Tuesday, exposing how he ascended to power, as Karl wrote, just as “American democracy was falling apart.”
McEntee started out as Trump’s body man, following the president around to carry bags or provide other assistance, but he quickly ascended the ranks to become director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office, a tremendously powerful and integral position for an otherwise political and professional neophyte.
In the role, the director of that department both vets and hires personnel “including ambassadors, Cabinet secretaries and top intelligence officials,” Karl points out. Beyond hiring, the director also has a say in firing.
The power of the position was so great and McEntee such an unconventionalchoice that even Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s acting chief of staff at the time, had his own deputy hauled into a meeting with the president to tell Trump he might be making a mistake.
Trump, true to form, was adamant that he wanted McEntee. And as it so often goes with both aspiring and experienced ‘yes men,’ McEntee, at 29 years old, found himself quickly ushered into the directorship.
What followed, according to Karl, was a swift pursuit by McEntee to root out anyone emitting even so much as a whiff of disloyalty to or independence from Trump. He committed to this mission with assistance from a team largely comprised of inexperienced, young, and attractive women—along with men McEntee deemed unthreatening to his pursuit of those women.
As time marched on, McEntee’s influence inside the administration flourished and so began the sequence of events that would lead to Esper’s termination.
McEntee eventually tapped Josh Whitehouse, a 25-year-old who once served as a coalition coordinator for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Whitehouse was elevated, despite a dearth of experience, from the campaign to an assistant role inside of the Department of Agriculture in 2017. But that stint lasted just nine months and as the election loomed in 2020, McEntee called him up to serve as the administration’s liaison to the Department of Homeland Security.
As a liaison, Whitehouse could not fire anyone directly, but he could do McEntee’s bidding—and that bidding he did as he helped the personnel office last October compose “a series of memos identifying nearly two dozen Pentagon officials they thought should be fired, each outlining transgressions allegedly made against Trump,” Karl wrote.
What followed was the Esper memo and with that advice to Trump, the former defense secretary was abruptly removed and replaced with Christopher Miller.
Miller’s senior adviser, Douglas Macgregor, was also selected by McEntee.
McEntee started his professional career as a production assistant for Fox News. He volunteered on Trump’s first presidential campaign and became the president’s body man. That was the extent of his governmental experience. And to boot, he only lasted a short while during that first go-round in the administration because he was fired. Investigators found his rampant gambling debts were a security threat.
But in January 2020, Trump’s reelection campaign scooped their yes man up.
And within a year (and just five days before the insurrection), it was McEntee who sent a text message to then-Vice President Mike Pence offering him bullet points—dripping in falsities and against White House counsel advice—on how Pence could “use his position” to help Trump win and effectively overturn the electoral results.
Karl reports that McEntee still “remains in close contact with Trump” and spent the summer at Trump’s Bedminster, New Jersey, club volunteering with the former president’s political operations.
McEntee, if he complies, may find himself back in Washington soon. The January 6th Committee subpoenaed McEntee Tuesday, seeking records plus a deposition about what he knows of or heard when he stood in the Oval Office with Trump, Trump’s former attorney Rudy Giuliani, and campaign counsel Justin Clark as they gamed out an audit of the count in Georgia.
McEntee is scheduled to go before the committee by Dec. 15 and lawmakers have set Nov. 23 as a deadline for McEntee to respond to the subpoena.