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