More Pentagon officials resign amid White House tensions

Two senior US defence officials have resigned, marking the latest departures from the Pentagon amid tensions with the White House.

The Department of Defense said on Wednesday that Michael Griffin, a China hawk who led the Pentagon’s effort to develop new high-tech weapons, had handed in his notice, along with his deputy, Lisa Porter.

Mark Esper, defence secretary, said Mr Griffin and Ms Porter left “a legacy of excellence”. People familiar with the matter said they departed to pursue private sector opportunities ahead of November’s presidential election.

Katie Wheelbarger, acting assistant secretary of defence for international security affairs, and Elaine McCusker, deputy under-secretary of defence responsible for budgeting, resigned earlier this month.

Both women were passed over for promotion, after their names were withdrawn from White House nomination lists, which people familiar with the matter said favoured loyalists to President Donald Trump.

“Nominations are done by the White House,” said Jonathan Hoffman, assistant to the secretary of defence for public affairs.

John Rood resigned in February as Pentagon policy chief, the number three job at the department, after reported criticism that he was insufficiently loyal to the president.

However, Mr Trump’s replacement pick, Anthony Tata, a retired army brigadier general, may be in for a bumpy ride.

His nomination has yet to be approved by the armed services committee in the Republican-controlled Senate. A vote by the full Senate would then be required for his confirmation.

Three former generals retracted their support for Mr Tata after the television news channel CNN revealed he had called Barack Obama a “terrorist leader” on Twitter, and labelled Islam “the most oppressive, violent religion”.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organisation, has described Mr Tata as an “anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist”, and urged lawmakers to reject him for the role.

A former senior defence official said the Pentagon’s policy department was an “unhappy shop”, adding that White House picks were “neutering” Mr Esper’s ability to run the department.

Mr Esper opened a rift with Mr Trump this month when he said he did not agree with the president about sending the army to clamp down on protests that erupted across the US after the killing of George Floyd last month.