May 2, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Esper says Trump wanted to shoot protesters

Mike Allen
Cover of Mark Esper's book
Cover: William Morrow

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper charges in a memoir out May 10 that former President Trump said when demonstrators were filling the streets around the White House following the death of George Floyd: "Can't you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?"

Why it matters: The book, "A Sacred Oath," contains vivid, first-person revelations by a top Cabinet member, bolstering outsiders' accounts of extreme dysfunction in Trump's White House.

That moment in the first week of June, 2020, "was surreal, sitting in front of the Resolute desk, inside the Oval Office, with this idea weighing heavily in the air, and the president red faced and complaining loudly about the protests under way in Washington, D.C.," Esper writes.

  • "The good news — this wasn't a difficult decision," Esper continues. "The bad news — I had to figure out a way to walk Trump back without creating the mess I was trying to avoid."

Behind the curtain: The book was vetted at the highest levels of the Pentagon. I'm told that as part of the clearance process, the book was reviewed in whole or in part by nearly three dozen 4-star generals, senior civilians, and some Cabinet members.

  • Some of them had witnessed what Esper witnessed.
  • During the book's security review, Esper sued the Pentagon over a classification dispute.

Context: Esper enraged Trump by publicly stating in June 2020 that he opposed invoking the Insurrection Act — an 1807 law that permits the president to use active-duty troops on U.S. soil — in order to quell protests against racial injustice.

  • Michael Bender — then with The Wall Street Journal, now with the N.Y. Times — reported last year in his book, "Frankly, We Did Win This Election," that Trump repeatedly called for law enforcement to shoot protesters during heated meetings inside the Oval Office.
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