Trump Can’t Count on Chris Miller for a Coup

The new acting defense secretary is a model Green Beret, not a yes man, says a former comrade 

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Christopher Miller, the counterterrorism expert tapped to lead the Defense Department during a tumultuous presidential transition period, won’t help President Donald Trump stay in office with the aid of military troops, a former Green Beret comrade says.

“No, absolutely not,” said Jason Amerine, who led one of the famed U.S. Special Forces teams into Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks that helped chase the Taliban from power and pursued Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda into the mountains. Miller was a Green Beret battalion commander in the operation. They later overlapped at the Pentagon for years.

Fears are widespread, including among prominent former military officers, that Trump replaced Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Monday in order to grease the skids for him to deploy troops to quell protests or otherwise help keep himself in power.

“Chris would resign” if Trump ordered him to deploy troops to crush protests or otherwise stay in power, said Amerine, who retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2015. “That’s not him at all. He’s not a yes man. He’s a very principled individual.”

Amerine added that as Miller later rose through the bureaucracies governing counterterrorism at the Joint Special Operations Command, the CIA, the Pentagon and White House National Security Council, he mastered the art of “dealing with difficult personalities.”

“He’s accidentally just the right person for the job,” Amerine, who was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star with V device for Valor for his actions in Afghanistan, told SpyTalk. The secretary’s job “never goes to the meritocracy,” he said with a chuckle. So in Miller, “there’s nobody more qualified from a standpoint of competence and experience.” 

“He epitomizes everything you want in a Special Forces officer,” Amerine said.

Miller served in a succession of sensitive posts following Afghanistan, including in a classified unit that conducts intelligence missions in connection with special operations missions around the globe. In 2006 and 2007, he also commanded Special Forces units in and around Baghdad, and made a point of visiting Green Beret field teams to solicit “ground truth” about the progress of the war, former comrades say.

He could buck superiors, but had such tact and that it never cost him a loss of respect or authority. “He has a warm, engaging personality,” Amerine said, “not the slightest hint of ego.”

Even though he joined a Trump administration wracked by politics and tension with top military officers in 2018, Miller is “not political,” said Amerine, echoing the view of others in published reports. For 18 months he was the  senior director for counterterrorism and transnational threats on the National Security Council. Just last August he was sworn in as director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

But he’s well known around the Pentagon, having held a number of senior counterterrorism and special operations portfolios there, including hostage rescue operations. Which means that, despite his obscurity to the general public, he won’t have any problem gaining the respect and loyalty of the generals and admirals who run the place, however temporary, said Amerine. 

“If there’s anything I feel bad about,“ it’s that Miller won’t likely be in the job after January 20, Amerine said. “But I hope it keeps the door open for him to spend more years in that position.”

Update: The Wall Street Journal reported late Tuesday afternoon that the White House had moved Natonal Security Council aide Kash Patel to the Pentagon to serve as Miller’s chief of staff (and likely Trump spy). Patel, a former aide to rightist Rep. Devin Nunes, top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, is known for his vigorous efforts to debunk evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election.) Also on Tuesday, the White House appointed Anthony Tata, a retired brigadier general known for his Islamophobic tweets and other controversial statements, to be head of policy at the Defense Department. And Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a Michael Flynn protégé who has been the acting assistant secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict, was moved up to fill in the top Pentagon intelligence job following the abrupt resignation of Joseph Kernan after Esper’s ouster.