Defense Secretary Mark Esper is trying to do some damage control regarding his involvement in Donald Trump’s publicity stunt Monday outside St. John’s church, and the methods used to clear peaceful protestors beforehand. This comes after NBC News reported that “he was given no notice before President Donald Trump led him and other senior administration officials to St. John’s Episcopal Church for a widely criticized photo opportunity.” During a news conference Thursday, Esper tried to clarify saying he knew he was going to the church, but he didn’t know the circumstances of the visit.
Defense Secretary Esper said he believed they planned to “review damage” at Lafayette Park and St. John’s church Monday. “I was not aware a photo-op was happening,” adding he does “everything I can to try to stay apolitical” when asked if he regrets taking part in Trump photo-op
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) June 3, 2020
Esper also went against Trump’s “warning” earlier this week that he was “dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults and wanton destruction of property.” The Defense Secretary said:
“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 in support of local law enforcement.”
NEW: Defense Sec. Esper: "I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act."
“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 … dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now.” pic.twitter.com/GcMBjs73rI
— NBC News (@NBCNews) June 3, 2020
Esper further distances himself from WH after Monday embarrassment, saying he does not support invoking Insurrection Act against protestors as Trump has threatened to do
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) June 3, 2020
Esper also directly addressed the killing of George Floyd, suggesting all the officers involved should be held “accountable:”
“The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman is a horrible crime. The officers on the scene that day should be held accountable for his murder. It is a tragedy that we have seen repeat itself too many times… racism is real in America, and we must all do our very best to recognize it, to confront it, and to eradicate it.”
The assumption is that Trump won’t like much of what Esper said. AXIOS’s Jonathan Swan wrote, “To put it mildly, White House officials aren’t thrilled with this press conference or Esper’s NBC interview. As Trump would say, we’ll see what happens…”
His statement may very well end up getting him fired, which, let’s be honest, he’d be fine with.
— Chris Wilson (@ChrisCtkwilson) June 3, 2020
Watch what else Esper said above.