Defense

Trump was talked out of firing Esper last week: report

President Trump reportedly wanted to dismiss Defense Secretary Mark Esper last week over conflicting views on the use of active-duty troops to quell nationwide protests but was talked out of it by advisers and lawmakers.

Officials told The Wall Street Journal that Trump — angry with Esper for not backing his threats to use active-duty forces to quash unrest in Washington, D.C., Minneapolis and other cities — was focused on sacking the Pentagon chief last Wednesday.

But when Trump asked several advisers for their opinions on the matter, he was reportedly counseled to shelve such a plan.

Esper at the same time had started to prepare a letter of resignation, as he was aware of Trump’s anger, but he stopped after aides and other advisers recommended against it, some of the officials told the Journal.

Earlier that day, Esper had said he did not support invoking the Insurrection Act — an 1807 law that allows the president to use the military for domestic law enforcement — over protests following the police killing of George Floyd, unarmed black man, in Minneapolis on May 25. He said such a move should be done only as a “last resort” and that the protests did not warrant such a response.

The stance was a break in messaging from Trump, who had urged governors to deploy National Guard troops to “dominate the streets” and stop any unrest, threatening to dispatch U.S. military forces to states and cities that did not meet his demands.

The Pentagon declined to comment, and the White House failed to respond to requests for comment.

The Trump administration has been under fire for its use of the military in attempting to quell protests, particularly its move last Monday to forcibly clear peaceful protesters from streets near the White House a short time before Trump and administration officials walked to nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo-op. Law enforcement backed by National Guard troops carried out the move.

Defense leaders have been fiercely opposed to using active-duty troops to respond to protesters, with Esper on Friday ordering some 1,600 such forces on standby in the D.C. area back to their home bases. The troops had been in the region since June 1 but were never used to respond in the city.

Esper had also sought to distance himself from the June 1 walk from the White House to St. John’s, telling reporters he didn’t know the trip would include a photo.

The officials told the Journal that Trump was also irked by that explanation.

Trump consulted advisers including White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, friend and outside adviser David Urban, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), according to the Journal.

The men reportedly told Trump that firing Esper would be too tumultuous a move ahead of the November presidential election.

Esper, following the Wednesday Pentagon press conference, went to the White House for a previously scheduled meeting and met with Trump in an encounter that was testy but ended with Esper still in his role.

—Updated at 6:25 p.m. 

Tags Donald Trump George Floyd James Inhofe Mark Esper Mark Meadows Mike Pompeo Tom Cotton

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