Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who worked in the Trump administration, said on Monday that he hopes former President Donald Trump does not run again because he believes the former commander in chief is a "threat to democracy."
Esper, whom Trump fired days after the 2020 presidential election, has garnered renewed media attention with the release of his new memoir, A Sacred Oath, which was released on Tuesday and includes anecdotes that portray the former president in an unflattering way.
During an interview on Fox News Monday evening, when host Bret Baier asked Esper if he believed "Donald Trump was a threat to democracy,” the former secretary of defense said, “I think that given the events of January 6th, given how he has undermined the election results, he incited people to come to D.C., stirred them that morning, and failed to call them off. To me, that threatens our democracy."
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Esper also expressed hope Trump would not run again. “I hope that the Republican base can figure out that while President Trump pushed a lot of traditional Republican ideas … there are other candidates out there that could run that could do it without dividing the people, without creating such tension within the country, and do it by growing the base as well. I think there are candidates out there that can do that.”
Esper claims in his book, among other things, that the former president sought his advice on whether the administration could use missiles to target Mexican drug production or shoot unarmed protesters and blamed Esper for preventing Trump from invoking the Insurrection Act, though Trump has since pushed back on some of those claims.
In the summer of 2020, when millions of people took to the streets to protest the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, Trump was concerned about looking "weak" on violence that occurred alongside the protests.
The then-defense secretary did not support invoking the Insurrection Act, which Trump was considering, and Esper made his opinion known during a June 3 press conference at the Pentagon.
"You betrayed me," Trump yelled in a meeting with his defense secretary after his press conference. "I'm the president not you!" He added, "I'm the president. It's my prerogative," and said it was "my call, not yours." "You took away my authority," the former president claimed. When Esper pushed back on the notion, Trump responded, "That's not your position to do."
Eventually, Trump conceded, "Because of what you did I can't use the Insurrection Act," though Esper writes that the feeling "wasn't completely correct, of course, but I was glad he felt that way, and wasn't about to disabuse him of his conclusion."
Later, during that heated meeting, the president asked if soldiers could shoot to wound, but not kill, protesters.
"Can't you just shoot them. Just shoot them in the legs or something," Trump asked of Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Esper described the question as "almost technical, curious as to how that would actually be done, not whether members of the military shooting American civilians in a mostly peaceful demonstration was the right thing to do."
Trump, in written answers, denied that he wanted to shoot protesters and that Esper tied his hands on possibly invoking the Insurrection Act, which would have allowed the president to deploy active-duty U.S. troops to cities across the country.
The president said the comment about shooting protesters “is a complete lie,” and he called Esper “weak and totally ineffective,” adding that he was “desperate not to lose his job.”
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“This is fake news. The fact is I didn’t need to invoke the act and never did,” Trump wrote regarding the Insurrection Act, though he responded, “No comment,” when asked about Esper’s claims that Trump sought his counsel on whether the U.S. could target Mexican drug cartels without publicly taking responsibility.
Esper is the latest former Trump official to write about his time in the White House. Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton, former press secretaries Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Stephanie Grisham, and more have already written books about their time under Trump.