About Us Contact Us Privacy Policy Terms of Use Accuracy & Fairness Corrections & Clarifications Ethics Code Your Ad Choices
© MEAWW All rights reserved

Defense Secretary Mark Esper in a tough spot after opposing Trump's move to deploy military to quell protests

When asked if Trump had lost faith in his defense secretary, White House said if he loses confidence in Esper, then the public would be the first to know
Mark Esper, Donald Trump (Getty Images)
Mark Esper, Donald Trump (Getty Images)

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has found himself on a sticky ground in the Donald Trump administration after he differed with the president over using a special military authority. On Wednesday, June 3, Esper made it evident during a press conference in Pentagon that he was not in agreement with the commander-in-chief over his recent threat to use the military to restore order in the US. The country is witnessing large-scale protests against the killing of George Floyd. 

"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 of situations. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act," Esper, 56, told reporters besides distancing himself from Trump's controversial photo-op outside St John's Church on Monday, June 1. The press is briefing believed to have sent a wrong signal to the White House where Esper was already being viewed as tenuous, CNN cited people familiar with the matter as saying. 

'As of now Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper': White House

Later, when White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was addressing the press, the Esper episode came up, but she did not directly answer the question if Trump had lost faith in his defense secretary. "As of right now Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper," McEnany said. "With regard to whether the President has confidence, I would say if he loses confidence in Secretary Esper, I'm sure you all will be the first to know," she added.

Esper took over in June last year replacing Jim Mattis, who shares a terrible relationship with Trump. The duo witnessed another moment of confrontation amid Esper’s non-complying stand with the White House. Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, blasted Trump over his handling of the protests and accused him of not trying to unify the people of the country. Trump also hit back at his former defense secretary on Twitter, calling him the "world’s most overrated general" and said he was glad that Mattis was gone. 

President Donald Trump and former defense secretary Jim Mattis (Getty Images)

June 3 witnessed certain unsettling moves by the army, which came up with a sudden reversal on a plan to start moving active troops from around Washington. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told the Associated Press that the change of plan came after Esper attended a meeting at the White House and after Pentagon's internal discussions. McCarthy suspected the reversal was based on the fact that there was enough military presence in the region to respond to any protest-related problems if the necessity arose.

On June 1, 715 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division arrived in the capital area to deal with a potentially worsening situation in Washington. They were stationed at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and Fort Belvoir in Virginia. Two more 82nd Airborne battalions, featuring 1,300 soldiers, were also on standby at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, according to documents that the AP reviewed. The plan was given the name Operation Themis.

According to McCarthy, he received a notice of the Pentagon order to resend around 200 soldiers with the 82nd Airborne's immediate response force home around 10 am on June 3. Hours later, the defense establishment came up with a new notification that Esper changed the decision. On June 3 morning, Trump said in a Twitter tirade that the police needs to 'get tough' on violent protesters across the country.

One report in the CNN cited many sources saying late on June 3 night that Esper will stay on the job as of now. It was also said that he had a talk with Trump in the Oval Office during his visit to the White House. CNN also cited a senior Republican source to say that the relation between Esper and the president is far from good. The defense secretary has had little influence and generally takes his lead from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and it is highly likely that the June 3 press conference will see things worsening more. Ever since Trump has come up with a military threat to quell the violence, voices have remained deeply divided in the Pentagon. Esper and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, faced a flurry of questions over the president’s strong warning and the defense secretary’s press meet on June 3 is believed to have resulted from the pressure.