Then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper spoke out against White House considerations for the invocation of the Insurrection Act to quell protests in June 2020, and then-President Donald Trump blamed him for taking that option off the table, according to Esper's new memoir.

At the time, Trump was concerned about looking "weak" as millions of protesters took to the streets to protest after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, Esper writes in A Sacred Oath, which the Washington Examiner obtained ahead of its planned release later this week.

The former secretary's book provides new insights about the former president's state of mind and his unrelenting attempts to stop the protesters during the summer of unrest.


“I say this not only as secretary of defense, but also as a former soldier and a former member of the National Guard, the option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire situations. We are not in one of those situations now,” Esper said at the Pentagon podium on June 3, 2020. “I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act."

After the press conference, Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went to the White House and met with Trump and other administration officials, including White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in the Situation Room, according to the book.

"You betrayed me," Trump yelled during the meeting, "I'm the president not you!" He added, "I'm the president. It's my prerogative," and said, it's "my call, not yours." "You took away my authority," the former president added. When Esper pushed back on the notion, Trump responded, "That's not your position to do."

During the heated back and forth, Esper maintained, "I do not believe anything that has happened requires invocation of the Insurrection Act. It would make matters worse and would be terrible for the country." Trump disagreed, arguing that "the protests are making us look weak."

Eventually, Trump conceded, "Because of what you did I can't use the Insurrection Act." Esper wrote that the statement "wasn't completely correct, of course, but I was glad he felt that way, and wasn't about to disabuse him of his conclusion."

Days earlier, Esper wrote he and Milley were in the White House as Trump contemplated how to react to the nationwide protests, some of which grew destructive, though were largely non-violent. Trump had already begun contemplating invoking the Insurrection Act, which would allow him to deploy active-duty U.S. troops to cities across the country.

The two Defense Department leaders, as well as Attorney General William Barr, spoke out against the idea. Esper said local law enforcement was best suited to handle the situation. Trump then questioned whether soldiers could shoot to wound, but not kill, protesters, per the book.

"Can't you just shoot them. Just shoot them in the legs or something," Trump asked of Milley. Esper described the question posed 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."


The former defense secretary said he had "utter disgust at the suggestion."

Later that night, Meadows reached out to Esper at his home and suggested he send a letter essentially saying he didn't mean what he said during the press conference and then-president's chief of staff implied that Trump was "angry and itching to fire me." Meadows then called him back two more times, one time with "a much more aggressive tone," Esper wrote, quoting the former North Carolina lawmaker as threatening to "trash you in the press," while the third call was calmer.

Esper ultimately decided to fly 1,600 active-duty Army soldiers from Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Drum in New York to the Washington, D.C., area and the then-president never invoked the Insurrection Act.

Trump fired Esper in November 2020 after the presidential election.