Ex-DOD Chief Esper Writes of 'Surreal' Incident With Trump

Former defense secretary writes in memoir that Trump wanted to shoot George Floyd protesters
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 2, 2022 9:10 AM CDT
Ex-DOD Chief Esper: Trump Suggested Shooting Protesters
In this Sept. 22, 2020, file photo, then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speaks at the Pentagon in Washington.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Mark Esper was fired as defense secretary by then-President Trump shortly after the 2020 election. But while Esper's stint heading up the Pentagon was short—he'd been sworn in during the summer of 2019—he was still witness to some notable events in his time under No. 45, according to snippets from his new memoir. One nugget attracting particular attention in A Sacred Oath, per Axios: that as protesters outraged over the death of George Floyd took to the streets in DC in the first week of June 2020, a "red faced" president upset about the demonstrators threw out his own idea on how to deal with them.

"Can't you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?" Trump said, per the account by Esper, who calls the whole experience "surreal." Esper continues: "The good news—this wasn't a difficult decision. The bad news—I had to figure out a way to walk Trump back without creating the mess I was trying to avoid." Axios' Mike Allen says Esper's book was vetted by dozens of people, including military brass, senior civilians, and multiple Cabinet members, and that some of them witnessed what Esper had. Allen also references a book written last year by then-Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender, Frankly, We Did Win This Election, which made similar claims about Trump wanting to shoot protesters.

"Just shoot them," Trump said, per CNN at the time, backing down a bit when he got pushback from Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and then-Attorney General Bill Bar: "Well, shoot them in the leg—or maybe the foot, But be hard on them!" Meanwhile, Insider references yet another incident along the same lines, detailed in This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America's Future, a book out Tuesday by New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns. In that instance, Maine Gov. Janet Mills said that during a June 2020 call to US governors, Trump seemed to be having a "nervous breakdown." "If the murder of George Floyd spurred Biden into a slightly more active mode of campaigning, it seemed to trigger something else entirely in Trump," Martin and Burns write. "The president was tired, it seemed, of feeling like the victim of forces beyond his control." (More Mark Esper stories.)

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