Trump nearly fired Defense Secretary Esper over dispute about using military against protests: report

Trump nearly fired Defense Secretary Esper over dispute about using military against protests: report
President Donald J. Trump congratulates newly sworn-in Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

As tensions boiled over and into public view last week, President Donald Trump prepared to fire Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

Esper drew attention to himself last Wednesday when he said at a Pentagon news conference he did not think the ongoing protests in response to George Floyd's killing demanded a military response. Trump had urged states in the previous days to "dominate" the streets in order to suppress the protests and some of the lawbreaking that accompanied them, and he offered to send in the military to help them. The Defense secretary had not cleared his dissenting statement with the White House, the report said, an omission that stunned officials. Esper's sharp, public break with the president made many observers speculate that his head may be next on the chopping block.

And Trump considered it, the Journal reported:

The president consulted several advisers to ask their opinion of the disagreement, intent that day on removing Mr. Esper, his fourth defense secretary since taking office in January 2017, according to the officials. After talks with the advisers, who cautioned against the move, Mr. Trump set aside the plans to immediately fire Mr. Esper.

And it wasn't just Trump who was reportedly frustrated over the disagreement. The Journal said that Esper considered resigning his position in protest, but decided against it.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked about Esper's potential termination after his remarks. At the time, she didn't say Trump was considering firing him, but she pointedly refused to say the president still had confidence in Esper.

A few days later, McEnany updated that stance in a statement to CNN:

"President Trump remains confident in Secretary Esper," McEnany said in the statement. "Secretary Esper has been instrumental in securing our nation's streets and ensuring Americans have peace and confidence in the security of their places of business, places of worship, and their homes."

For now, at least, it seems Esper's job is safe.

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