Esper drops suit against Pentagon over memoir dispute

Greg Nash

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper is dropping his lawsuit against the Pentagon over proposed redactions for his forthcoming memoir.

Esper’s attorney Mark Zaid filed a motion on Friday for voluntary dismissal of the case, indicating that the parties “stipulate to dismiss” the action. The motion did not provide further insight into the decision.

But Zaid suggested the Pentagon had moved on some of Esper’s demands.

In an emailed statement to The Hill, Zaid said that because of the “success” of the litigation, the memoir will be published as scheduled with “minimal redactions” that “will not disturb the flow of reading the book.”

“The state of the law is clear: the U.S. Government has absolutely no authority to prevent anyone from publishing unclassified information. That is an incontrovertible constitutional right and established by binding precedent,” Zaid said in an emailed statement.

“Frankly, Secretary Esper has no interest in publishing properly classified information, which he has sworn to and has protected for decades,” he continued.

The Pentagon had no comment on the dismissal when reached by The Hill and referred questions to Esper.

Esper served as Defense Secretary from June 2019 until then-President Trump abruptly fired him in November 2020, days after the 2020 presidential election. He was succeeded by Christopher Miller, who served as acting secretary for the remainder of Trump’s term. 

The move to dismiss the case comes roughly four months after the former Defense chief initially filed the suit in late November, alleging that the Pentagon was unlawfully blocking parts of his upcoming book “A Sacred Oath.”

The book, which is due to be published in May, details his time as Defense Secretary in what he describes as a “tumultuous second half of the Trump administration.” 

Zaid said that the Pentagon wanted to redact “significant swaths” of content on over 50 pages of his book which absolutely gutted substantive content and important storylines.”

In his suit, Esper said he submitted the manuscript of the book around May 24, 2021 for mandatory pre-publication review. On Oct. 7, the agency’s Office of Pre-publication and Security Review sent Esper pages that had to be amended for his book to receive full approval.

Esper then spent from October to Nov. 8 engaging with the Pentagon to understand why certain parts of the book should have been redacted. The former defense chief said he emailed current Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Nov. 8 regarding the proposed changes, but Austin never responded.

He further alleged that during the time the Pentagon was reviewing the manuscript, certain stories that he included suddenly began appearing in the media.

“As a former Cabinet officer, it was not an easy decision for Secretary Esper to sue the Department he led, not to mention having to incur attorney’s fees and legal costs out of his own pocket to defend the very constitutional rights he served in uniform to protect,” Zaid said.

Zaid added that the pre-publication classification review system is “clearly broken,” particularly when “the existence of litigation compels the Defendant to reverse its position on an overwhelming majority of classification decisions it earlier asserted were so vital to the national security interests of the United States, when the fact is they never were.”

Tags Donald Trump Lloyd Austin Mark Esper
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