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Report: Trump discussed firing Esper over using troops for riot control dispute

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, right, delivers remarks on the Coronavirus pandemic as President Donald Trump looks on in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 18, 2020. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Sipa USA/TNS)
June 09, 2020

President Donald Trump considered firing U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper over a dispute about the use of military troops to quell civil unrest last week.

The Wall Street Journal reported the alleged tension between Trump and Esper, based on the accounts of several officials. At the same time, Esper reportedly began preparing a letter of resignation from the administration, but was ultimately persuaded by aides and advisors not to resign.

Last week Trump called for governors of various states to use their National Guard units to respond to rioting and looting in their states. Trump warned he would call upon active military troops if state and local leaders did not respond to the riots.

“If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United State military and quickly solve the problem for them,” Trump warned.

Amid Trump’s remarks, National Guard units around the country were being brought out to respond to riots. On Wednesday, the Pentagon confirmed around 1,600 active military troops were also reportedly brought into the Washington D.C. area and placed on standby.

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Hours after the Pentagon confirmed the movement of active military troops into the capital area, Esper said he did not see a reason to use those troops in response to riots.

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

Following the apparent differences in opinion on the use of the military to respond to the rioting, reports circulated that Trump had asked advisors whether Esper could still be effective in his position.

According to sources for The Wall Street Journal, Trump was also persuaded by aides and advisors to put aside plans to fire Esper.

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

Advisors who were asked to weigh in on the apparent rift between Trump and Esper included 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-AR) and James Inhofe (R-OK).

Last week, when asked about apparent rift by Politico reporters, Inhofe said he did not see much of a divide between Trump and Esper.

“Both of them have the same position, that position is the last resort is troops,” Inhofe told Politico.

On Sunday morning, Trump ordered the removal of all National Guard troops deployed in Washington D.C. for civil unrest missions in the previous days.

“I have just given an order for our National Guard to start the process of withdrawing from Washington, D.C., now that everything is under perfect control,” Trump tweeted. “They will be going home, but can quickly return, if needed. Far fewer protesters showed up last night than anticipated!”