Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has leveled several new accusations against former President Donald Trump in his new book “A Sacred Oath: Memoirs of a Secretary of Defense During Extraordinary Times” released this week.
In an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” program that aired Sunday, Esper detailed a number of the allegations in his new book, which hit shelves Tuesday. Throughout the book, Esper described instances where Trump and other people in his administration discussed conducting military strikes in other countries, including Mexico, Venezuela and Iran.
“It’s important to our country, it’s important to the republic, the American people, that they understand what was going on in this very consequential period, the last year of the Trump administration,” Esper told 60 Minutes host Norah O’Donnell. “And to tell the story about things we prevented. Really bad things. Dangerous things that could have taken the country in– in a dark direction.”
When asked what kinds of things Esper helped prevent, he said, “At various times– during the– certainly the last year of the administration, you know, folks in the White House are proposing to take military action against Venezuela. To– to– to strike Iran. At one point, somebody proposed we blockade Cuba.”
Esper said it seemed like “every few weeks” an idea would come up within the administration and “we’d have to swat them down” referring mostly to himself but also Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley.
Esper said he and Milley discussed enforcing a set of so-called “Four No’s” for the U.S. military, which included no strategic retreats, no unnecessary wars, no politicization of the military, and no misuse of the military ahead of the 2020 election. Ahead of the 2020 elections, Trump repeatedly discussed withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. In October 2020, Trump tweeted “We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas.” The New York Times reported in March 2021 that the Department of Defense had kept about 1,000 more U.S. troops in Afghanistan than it had publicly disclosed at the end of Trump’s presidential term.
At another point in the “60 Minutes” interview, Esper said Trump wanted to deploy at least 10,000 troops in Washington D.C. after rioters set fire to St. John’s church during protests in the spring of 2020 after the death of George Floyd. Rioters had also forced the White House to go into lockdown on May 31 and physically assaulted multiple U.S. Secret Service members.
Esper described thinking at the time, “He’s gonna finally give a direct order to deploy paratroopers into the streets of Washington, D.C. And I’m thinking with weapons and bayonets. This would be horrible.” Esper also claimed Trump asked about shooting protesters in the leg during this same time period.
Trump responded to a number of Esper’s claims in a statement provided to “60 Minutes.”
Specifically addressing Esper’s claim Trump talked about shooting protesters, Trump said, “This is a complete lie, and 10 witnesses can back it up.”
Trump also disputed Esper’s claim about him wanting to deploy 10,000 troops to D.C. after the fire at St. John’s church. Trump said, “I wanted to send 10,000 troops for January 6, because I knew people were coming to Washington that day to protest the corrupt Presidential Election of 2020.” Trump went on to claim House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) declined that request for troops on Jan. 6, 2021.
Esper also claimed that his public opposition to using the Insurrection Act — to allow active-duty troops to respond to civil unrest — gave Trump the impression he could not invoke the act in response to the unrest throughout the spring and summer of 2020.
“I publicly rebuked him,” Esper told O’Donnell. “And what I would learn later … is he thought I took away his authority to invoke the Insurrection Act. He did not believe that he had the authority to impose it.”
Trump responded to Esper’s claim saying, “This is Fake News. The fact is I didn’t need to invoke the act and never did.”
Esper said at various other times, Trump pulled him aside and discussed having the military shoot missiles into Mexico to target drug cartels.
“I understand the motive,” Esper recalled telling Trump in response to the idea of striking cartel targets. “Because he was very serious about dealing with drugs in America. I get that, we all understand, but I had to explain to him, ‘We– we can’t do that. It would violate international law. It would be terrible for our neighbors to the south. It would, you know, impact us in so many ways.'”
Esper said he had hesitated to bring up the alleged conversation with Trump about missile strikes in Mexico, but decided to write about it after a fellow Cabinet member brought it up after the election. “I said to him, ‘You– you heard that?’ He goes, ‘Oh, yeah. I– I couldn’t believe it. And I couldn’t believe how– how well you managed and talked him down from that.’ And at that moment, I knew I gotta write the story. Because at least have one witness who will verify that this really did happen.”
Responding to that specific allegation by Esper, Trump only said, “No comment.”
Esper also told “60 Minutes” that Trump advisor Stephen Miller called for sending around 250,000 U.S. troops to deploy to the U.S.-Mexico border to assist with border enforcement efforts and respond to a migrant caravan. Esper recalled telling Miller at the time, “I don’t have a quarter million troops to send on some ridiculous mission to the border.'”
On Tuesday, the Hill reported additional claims from Esper’s book, including that Trump proposed calling former Navy Adml. William McRaven and former Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal back to active duty in May of 2020. Trump reportedly wanted to recall the officers so he court-martial them for their open criticisms of his administration. Esper claimed Trump backed down from the idea after Milley told him “that he would personally call the officers and ask them to dial it back.”