Pentagon: Report That Trump May Fire Air Force Secretary 'Is Nonsense'

Newly sworn Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson thanks family, friends and colleagues during her ceremonial oath of office as the 24th secretary, at the Pentagon event, May 16, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Wayne A. Clark)
Newly sworn Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson thanks family, friends and colleagues during her ceremonial oath of office as the 24th secretary, at the Pentagon event, May 16, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Wayne A. Clark)

The Defense Department is pushing back on a report that President Donald Trump is weighing removing Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson after reports surfaced he is unhappy with her response to his Space Force proposal.

"This is nonsense," Pentagon chief spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement. "The Department of Defense leadership team is focused on defending our great nation and working together to be worthy of the blood, treasure and faith entrusted to us by the American people."

According to a report from Foreign Policy published Thursday, Trump is considering removing Wilson over the service's reluctance to advance his Space Force proposal. The president is assessing whether to fire Wilson, who was confirmed as the 24th Air Force secretary last May, after the midterm elections next month, Foreign Policy reported, citing three anonymous sources with knowledge of the matter.

White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters later told Foreign Policy that the allegation is not true, saying, "There is no discussion by the president to oust Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson. All reporting to the contrary is simply false."

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Trump revealed in March that his administration wants to create a sixth branch of the military to focus on protecting military space assets.

The president's issue with Wilson stems from the service's efforts to undercut the Space Force proposal, Foreign Policy said. She and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein instead outlined how the service's space budget propels the Pentagon's mission forward against emerging threats such as Russia and China.

Wilson recently spoke of the necessity for the Air Force to continue to hone its space mission in some way, announcing at the annual Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber conference that seven new space squadrons would be part of its 386 operational squadron plan, dubbed "The Air Force We Need."

The additional space squadrons are needed "so that we can dominate in space, where we have not been threatened in the past," she said in a speech at the conference Sept. 17.

That same week, Wilson wrote in a memo that the Defense Department will need roughly $12.9 billion over five years to resource personnel and infrastructure for the Trump administration's proposed Space Force.

Wilson, however, has maintained a close relationship with Vice President Mike Pence. In recent months, they have met with airmen at bases around the country and have publicly spoken on furthering the overall U.S. space initiative. Pence even made a surprise visit to the Air Force Association conference outside Washington, D.C., last month.

Wilson graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1982, part of the third class to include women.

She served as a Republican in Congress from 1998 to 2009, representing New Mexico's 1st Congressional District. She chaired the House Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence, and was senior ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She also served on the House Armed Services Committee for four years.

Wilson is the third woman to serve as the Air Force secretary, after Deborah Lee James, who served under President Barack Obama, and Sheila E. Widnall, who served under President Bill Clinton's administration.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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