Senior DOD official says Esper ‘got had’ by Trump as secretary admits he ‘was not aware a photo-op would be happening’

Senior DOD official says Esper ‘got had’ by Trump as secretary admits he ‘was not aware a photo-op would be happening’
Image via Screengrab.

On Monday night, June 1, Defense Secretary Mark Esper was with President Donald Trump when he walked from the White House to the iconic St. John’s Episcopal Church for a speech and photo-op — which came after non-violent “Justice for George Floyd” protestors had been forcibly removed by Washington D.C. police from nearby Lafayette Square. And Esper is asserting that he had “no idea” the protestors would be removed for a photo-op. Moreover, a senior defense official told CNN that Esper and U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believe they “got had” by Trump.

Tuesday, Esper told NBC News, “I thought I was going to do two things: to see some damage and to talk to the troops.”

The Secretary of Defense said he believed he was going to observe a vandalized bathroom near Lafayette Square. Although the vast majority of “Justice for George Floyd” protests in the U.S. capital have been peaceful and nonviolent, a minority of extremists have resorted to acts of vandalism.

“I didn’t know where I was going,” Esper told NBC News. “I wanted to see how much damage actually happened.”

The defense official who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity also indicated that Esper and Milley were deceived and misled by Trump — or as the official put it, “got had.”

CNN reports, “That official says they had no idea that they were being taken, walked across the street, led by the president for a photo-op ... a photo-op that was made possible by the violent clearing of those peaceful protestors.”

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday morning, Esper tried to clean up his remarks to NBC. He told reporters, “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.”

Esper said of Lafayette Square, “I was not aware of law enforcement’s plans for the park.” And he told reporters he has tried to remain “apolitical” during his role as defense secretary, noting, “I was not aware a photo-op would be happening.”

Esper also said that police did not use teargas on protestors in Lafayette Square, and Trump has said that journalists should correct their reporting on the use of teargas there. But the Washington Post has reported that according to the Centers  for Disease Control, teargas was, in fact, used.

A Pentagon spokesperson told NBC News that Esper knew that St. John’s would be one of the locations where he would be checking out damage that had occurred but confirmed that the defense secretary had no idea he was being used for Trump’s photo-op.

When Trump walked from the White House to St. John’s, he was also accompanied by U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A defense official, speaking to NBC News, said of Esper and Milley, “Their understanding is they were going into Lafayette Park to review the efforts of the troops.”

Trump has drawn vehement condemnation all around the world for his St. John’s photo-op, with critics asserting that he was willing to promote unnecessary violence against nonviolent protestors in order to carry out a cheap publicity stunt. Holding up a copy of the Holy Bible, Trump was obviously pandering to far-right white evangelicals — who are crucial to his reelection campaign. But not all Christians are part of the Christian Right. Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, an Episcopalian who oversees the historic church, slammed Trump and stressed that she was “outraged” by his publicity stunt.


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