Trump aides are compiling candidates to replace Mark Esper if Trump decides to fire him: report
Mark Esper speaks to reporters at the Pentagon (MSNBC/screen grab)

On Thursday, Politico reported that although Defense Secretary Mark Esper's job appears safe for now, aides to President Donald Trump are compiling a list of potential nominees to replace him if the president changes his mind and decides to fire him.

"An administration official and two people close to the White House say staffers in recent days have pulled together a list of possible candidates for Defense secretary if Trump does choose to fire Esper," reported Lara Seligman, Daniel Lippman, and Meridith McGraw. "At the top of that list is Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, who was Esper’s No. 2 before taking the Army job last summer, the people said. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), an outspoken Trump ally who has previously been considered for the position, is also in the mix, according to one of the people."

Esper has been in the doghouse with Trump ever since a public interview in which he tried to distance himself from the orders to forcibly scatter peaceful protesters at the White House ahead of the president's church photo-op. He has pointedly broken with the president on the extent to which military force can be used against protesters.

However, other aides have said that firing is unlikely.

"Instead of being shown an early exit, one person in the administration said, Esper could just face an icing out," said the report. "It’s a fate that has befallen numerous aides and Cabinet secretaries who cross Trump, from former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to national security advisers H.R. McMaster and John Bolton, to every former chief of staff. Weeks or months before each aide actually departed the administration, Trump simply cut them out of key decisions after growing frustrated with them."

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