Esper book details Trump rage at Pence and proposal to hit Mexico with missiles
"Memoir from ex-defense chief Mark Esper details extraordinary outbursts he says he helped to defuse
In the heated summer of 2020, thwarted in his desire for a violent crackdown on protesters for racial justice, Donald Trump included his vice-president in a complaint that senior advisers were “losers”.
Trump’s second defense secretary, Mark Esper, details the Oval Office outburst in a new book. A Sacred Oath: Memoirs of a Defense Secretary in Extraordinary Times, will be published next week. The Guardian obtained a copy.
Esper’s account of an extraordinary presidential question in the same meeting – “Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something” – has already been reported. Pence’s inclusion in Trump’s invective has not.
Amid such revelations from the book, the New York Times related Esper’s claim that Trump once proposed launching “missiles into Mexico to destroy the drug labs”.
According to Esper, Trump said “no one would know it was us”, because he would simply deny responsibility. Esper said he would have thought Trump was joking, had he not been looking at the president as he said it.
Trump did not immediately comment.
Esper writes that he helped block other such ideas from the president and his aides, among them proposals from the policy adviser Stephen Miller that the US should send 250,000 troops to the Mexico border.
Miller is also alleged to have suggested severing the head of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an Islamic State leader killed by the US, dipping it in pig’s blood and parading it as a warning to other terrorists.
Esper says he told Miller that would be a “war crime”. To the New York Times, Miller denied the episode and called Esper a “moron”.
The former defense secretary’s full account of the meeting at which Trump suggested shooting protesters, as Washington and other US cities were convulsed by protests inspired by the police murder of George Floyd in late May 2020, is equally remarkable.
Esper’s account of Gen Mark Milley’s attempts to explain to Trump the role of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff echoes others, including by the reporter Michael Bender in a book published last year and by William Barr, Trump’s second attorney general, who was present but recounts a slightly different lineup of Trump aides.
Like Barr in his own memoir, Esper does not stint when describing how he says Trump reacted when he was told Milley had no command authority over active duty or national guard forces Trump wanted to deploy.
According to Esper: “‘You are losers!’ the president railed. ‘You are all fucking losers!’
“This wasn’t the first time I had heard him use this language, but not with this much anger, and never directed at people in a room with him, let alone toward Barr, Milley and me.”
Esper expands on Barr’s account of what the then-attorney general called a “tantrum”, saying Pence was also a target.
“He repeated the foul insults again, this time directing his venom at the vice-president as well, who sat quietly, stone-faced, in the chair at the far end of the semi-circle closest to the Rose Garden. I never saw him yell at the vice-president before, so this really caught my attention.”
Pence was loyal to Trump until 6 January 2021, the day of the deadly Capitol riot, when he refused to attempt to block certification of Joe Biden’s election victory. Like Trump, Pence is now eyeing a run for the presidency in 2024.
Esper also writes that “Trump shouted, ‘None of you have any backbone to stand up to the violence,’ and suggested we were fine with people ‘burning down our cities’.”
The former defense secretary then details the question about whether protesters could be shot.
Esper says Trump did not attempt to order the shooting of protesters.
Instead, Esper says, the president was “waiting, it seemed, for one of us to yield and simply agree. That wasn’t going to happen.”