In a 20-minute press conference this morning in the Pentagon, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that, based on where things presently stand, he objects to using the Army to combat domestic civil unrest across the country.
President Trump raised this very prospect on Monday evening when he said that he had ordered “thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel, and law enforcement officers” to keep the peace in Washington, D.C., and threatened to do the same nationwide. Said Trump: “If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”
In contrast, Dr. Esper said today: “I’ve always believed and continue to believe that the National Guard is best-suited for performing domestic support to civil authorities in these situations.” He said flatly: “I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”
Added the Secretary: “The option to use active duty forces 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.”
When asked on Tuesday about Esper’s decision on Monday to participate in the photograph with the President holding up a bible in front of St. John’s church that some have characterized as a “photo op,” a senior Defense official said that Secretary Esper and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark A. Milley, were not aware of Trump’s plan to take the picture. In today’s press conference, Secretary Esper clarified that he WAS aware that he would be walking to the church, but did not know that he would be posing for a photo. Esper stressed his efforts to remain apolitical.
Dr. Esper’s public break from the President comes the day after Dr. James N. Miller, a former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and long-time DoD senior leader, resigned from Secretary Esper’s august Defense Science Board, saying that Secretary Esper had violated his oath of office and its commitment to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States . . . and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”
Wrote Dr. Miller in his resignation letter:
“Law-abiding protesters just outside the White House were dispersed using tear gas and rubber bullets — not for the sake of safety, but to clear a path for a presidential photo op. You then accompanied President Trump in walking from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church for that photo.”
Secretary Esper’s 2 June 2020 memorandum to the Department on “Support to Civil Authorities follows: