#Trump reportedly wanted to fire defense secretary for not using troops against protesters

#Trump reportedly wanted to fire defense secretary for not using troops against protesters

June 9, 2020 | 5:07pm

President Trump wanted to fire Mark Esper last week after the defense secretary balked at the commander in chief’s plan to use active-duty military personnel to quell civilian unrest, a report said Tuesday.

Officials told The Wall Street Journal that Trump was furious with Esper for not backing his idea to use US troops to thwart protests in Washington, D.C., Minnesota and elsewhere following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.

Trump consulted advisers to ask about firing Esper, his fourth defense secretary since taking office, according to the unnamed officials.

But the advisers warned him against the move, and Trump shelved the plans to immediately fire Esper, the paper reported.

Esper, aware of Trump’s anger, was making his own plans to resign over his differences regarding the role of the military in civilian affairs, the officials said.

He started writing a resignation letter before he was persuaded not to quit by aides and other advisers, some of the officials said.

Esper said last Wednesday that he didn’t think using federal troops in American streets was warranted.

The comments, made in an opening statement at a news conference at the Pentagon, weren’t vetted beforehand by the White House, and the statement caught the president and officials there off guard, two officials said.

“The option to use active duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort,” Esper said then. “And only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now.”

Firing the Pentagon chief would have meant another major shake-up in the administration during one of the biggest security crises of Trump’s presidency, the officials said.

“It was a bad day, the president was close to losing confidence in him,” said one administration official. “Ultimately, he decided to keep him in place.”

White House and Pentagon officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from The Journal.

Trump believed violence was overwhelming local law-enforcement agencies and National Guard troops and pushed for using active-duty troops to deal with the protesters, according to the officials.

But his advisers, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley, had discouraged the president from invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807 and calling in federal troops.

Esper, a West Point graduate and former Army officer, said during meetings that he felt strongly that the Act shouldn’t be invoked to use federal troops.

Trump consulted White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; longtime Trump friend and outside adviser David Urban; and Sens. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) and James Inhofe (R., Okla.), the officials said.

The advisers argued that firing Esper would put the Trump administration in a tough spot as there were few qualified individuals who could quickly replace Esper, and that could leave the Pentagon without a confirmed leader as Trump faced voters in November.

While active-duty US troops did not engage with protesters, members of the 82nd Airborne Division were stationed near the nation’s capital until Trump ordered them to return to their base.


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