WASHINGTON — President Trump’s Secretary of Defense just said he doesn’t support Trump’s bombastic threat to use active-duty military soldiers against U.S. protesters, some of whom have been looting and setting buildings on fire.
The statement represents a stunning rebuke to Trump from one of his own top Cabinet officials, just two days after the president vowed to unleash the armed forces on American streets if governors and mayors couldn’t stop the violent unrest accompanying protests against police brutality.
On Wednesday morning, Defense Secretary Mark Esper dismissed Trump’s warlike bluster as unwarranted by the present situation.
“The option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations,” Esper told a briefing on Wednesday morning. “We are not in one of those situations now.”
Trump’s threat raised the harrowing possibility of turning U.S. armed forces loose against American citizens, a move that could have unpredictable and explosive consequences. The plan would involve invoking the Insurrection Act, a two-century old statute that gives the president the power to override another law, the Posse Comitatus act, which generally ban s using the military to enforce domestic laws.
“I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act,” Esper said.
Esper has been hammered for his decision to march alongside Trump across the front lawn of the White House on Monday evening — immediately after Trump’s threat to use the military on protestors — for a bizarre photo shoot in front of a burned out church. The unprecedented publicity event took place moments after security personnel violently cleared a group of protestors out of their way.
Esper said afterwards that he didn’t know about the plan to clear the protestors, or where they were going, and initially thought they were just planning to inspect a vandalized bathroom in Lafayette Square near the church.
“I thought I was going to do two things: to see some damage and to talk to the troops,” Esper told NBC News on Tuesday night.
Cover: Defense Secretary Mark Esper listens during a Cabinet Meeting with President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)