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Esper claims Trump asked about shooting 2020 protesters in new book reviewed by 30+ top officials

Then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speaks with President Donald Trump at a White House coronavirus briefing (Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Sipa USA/TNS)
May 02, 2022

In his forthcoming book “A Sacred Oath: Memoirs of a Secretary of Defense During Extraordinary Times,” reviewed by more than 30 top brass and officials, former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper claimed that then-President Donald Trump asked him about shooting protestors during nationwide civil unrest in Spring 2020 over the death of George Floyd.

According to Esper’s memoir, Trump asked during the protests and riots, “Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?” Axios first reported after reviewing an excerpt of the book, which is set to release May 10. Axios reported Esper’s memoir was reviewed by nearly three dozen four-star general, senior civilian officials and cabinet members as part of a pre-publication clearance process. Some of those officials may have witnessed the exchange Esper described in his book, Axios reported.

It was not immediately clear who Trump was asking about shooting during this alleged conversation.

Esper wrote it “was surreal, sitting in front of the Resolute desk, inside the Oval Office, with this idea weighing heavily in the air, and the president red faced and complaining loudly about the protests under way in Washington, D.C.”

“The good news — this wasn’t a difficult decision,” Esper added. “The bad news — I had to figure out a way to walk Trump back without creating the mess I was trying to avoid.”

Following Floyd died in Minneapolis police custody, protests and riots spread throughout the country, including in Washington D.C. On May 29, 2020, the White House went into lockdown as a protest outside the building turned into a violent riot. The U.S. Secret Service reported more than 60 of its agents were injured by rioters who threw projectiles such as bricks, rocks, bottles and fireworks. The Secret Service said personnel “were also directly physically assaulted as they were kicked, punched, and exposed to bodily fluids.”

Just days after the attack on the White House, Trump called on state governors to deploy law enforcement and National Guard troops to protect communities against rioting.

“Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled,” Trump said at the time. “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.”

Just days after Trump issued this public call to counter the violence, Esper delivered an address from the Pentagon where he said he opposed invoking the Insurrection Act to call in active-duty troops to respond to the riots. Trump and Esper reportedly clashed over Esper’s remarks and Trump reportedly discussed firing Esper after he made those comments.

Esper is not the first person to author an account claiming Trump talked about shooting protestors. In his 2021 book “Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost,” Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender wrote that Trump wanted the military to “beat the fuck out” of protesters.

“Just shoot them,” Bender’s sources claim Trump said on multiple occasions. Bender wrote that Chairman of the Joint Cheifs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and then-Attorney General William Barr would push back on Trump’s comments and Trump would then tone down his comments.

“Well, shoot them in the leg—or maybe the foot,” Trump reportedly said when confronted by Milley and Barr. “But be hard on them”

Bender wrote that Trump told military leaders considering responses to the 2020 protests and riots also call to “crack their skulls.”

In November, a lawyer representing Esper announced he was suing the Department of Defense after its pre-publication classification review blocked several portions of the memoir.

“I am more than disappointed the current Administration is infringing on my First Amendment constitutional rights,” Esper said in November. “And it is with regret that legal recourse is the only path now available for me to tell my full story to the American people.”

Esper also said the DoD “asked me to not quote former President Trump and others in meetings, to not describe conversations between the former president and me, and to not use certain verbs or nouns when describing historical events.”