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President Trump with Esper following behind him. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told NBC on Tuesday he had no notice that he was being led with President Trump on Monday to a photo op at St. John's Episcopal Church, saying: "I thought I was going to do two things: to see some damage and to talk to the troops."

Why it matters: The visit has received backlash from both sides of the political aisle as well as clergy from the church.

  • The Trump administration used physical force and pepper balls to disperse crowds from outside the White House so the president could snap the photo.

What he's saying: "I didn't know where I was going," Esper told NBC. "I wanted to see how much damage actually happened."

  • Esper also said he had no awareness of plans to disperse protesters, but that he's very proud of the National Guard" following their nationwide response to civil unrests.

Go deeper

Trump to visit Kenosha amid anger over Jacob Blake shooting

President Trump visiting an emergency operation center in Orange, Texas, on Saturday. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump will visit Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday amid unrest over the Aug. 23 police shooting that left Jacob Blake paralyzed from the waist down, the White House confirmed.

Why it matters: Per AP, Trump's trip is "certain to exacerbate tensions in the city, where a crowd of about 1,000 demonstrators gathered outside a courthouse Saturday to denounce police violence." White House spokesperson Judd Deere told reporters the president would "survey damage from recent riots," AFP reports. Trump is touting his law and order credentials as he seeks re-election.

Go deeper: Trump and Biden ready to refight 1968

Mitch McConnell's remarks on Black voters raise ire

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during a Capitol Hill news conference earlier this year. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been widely criticized on for comments he made this week on Black American voters.

Driving the news: When asked by a reporter on Wednesday about concerns among voters of color, McConnell said "the concern is misplaced, because if you look at the statistics, Black American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans."

Updated 55 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Trump’s friends worry legal pick for N.Y. case lacks experience

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Close associates and advisers to Donald Trump tell Axios they're concerned by his decision to use a relatively inexperienced New Jersey attorney, Alina Habba, in his high-stakes legal fight against New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Why it matters: A former president typically has access to the country's most prestigious experts, including lawyers. Trump has turned to the former general counsel for a parking garage company, who works from a small law office near his Bedminster, N.J., country club.