Mark Esper

White House Asked VA Secretary About Running Pentagon If Trump Fires Esper

Trump has told aides for months he's unhappy with Mark Esper and wants to fire him. Trump's allies have told him doing so before the election would create turmoil

In this March 18, 2020, file photo, Robert Wilkie, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs secretary, speaks while President Donald Trump, left, listens during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, D.C.
Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Donald Trump has long been unhappy with Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and White House officials have talked to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie about taking the top Pentagon job should Trump decide to fire Esper, three senior administration officials said.

Two senior administration officials said Trump discussed the position directly with Wilkie at the White House last month, NBC News reports. Two other senior administration officials said Wilkie had senior-level discussions with the White House about becoming Trump's next defense secretary.

The conversations included the idea of naming Wilkie — a Senate-confirmed member of Trump's Cabinet — the acting defense secretary if the president fires Esper, officials said. The option of naming Wilkie as acting Pentagon chief would give Trump the flexibility to remove Esper immediately after the November election, if not before.

NBC4 Washington investigative reporter Scott MacFarlane sat down with Secretary Robert Wilkie to discuss what the Department of Veteran Affairs medical centers are doing to prepare for COVID-19 patients. Here is the extended interview.

The White House declined to comment on the record. The Veterans Affairs Department and the Pentagon declined to comment.

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