Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speaks as President Donald Trump listens during the daily White House coronavirus press briefing April 1, 2020 in Washington, DC
Win McNamee/Getty Images
- Mark Esper’s memoir of his time in the Trump admin. paints a troubling picture of his former boss.
- Esper portrayed Trump as an erratic, petulant leader who posed a threat to Americans.
- Trump was an “idiosyncratic, unpredictable, and unprincipled commander in chief,” Esper wrote.
Fomer Defense Secretary Mark Esper in his new memoir depicts former President Donald Trump as a brash, petulant leader consumed by personal vendettas, whose approach to being commander-in-chief posed a national security risk.
The book — “A Sacred Oath: Memoirs of a Secretary of Defense During Extraordinary Times” — opens with Esper recounting an Oval Office meeting in which Trump asked why the US military couldn’t “just shoot” George Floyd protestors in Washington, DC.
“I couldn’t believe the president of the United States just suggested the US military shoot our fellow Americans in the streets of the nation’s capital,” Esper wrote, adding, “The moment was surreal, sitting in front of the Resolute desk, inside the Oval Office, with this idea weighing heavily in the air, and the president red faced and complaining loudly about the protests under way in Washington, DC.”
Esper defended his decision to stay in the administration, in spite of his concerns with Trump’s antics. The former Pentagon chief said he felt a sense of duty to stay, and also worried Trump would replace him with a “loyalist” who could do “real damage.”
“I stayed because I didn’t want our military politicized, let alone shooting civilians or collecting ballot boxes. I also didn’t want to start any unnecessary wars, break any alliances, or compromise our nation’s security,” Esper said.
It remains to be seen whether damaging accounts from this latest tell-all by a top official will shift views about Trump, the polarizing politician whom the majority of Republicans say should run again for president over a year after the January 6 assault on the US Capitol.
Esper described Trump as an “idiosyncratic, unpredictable, and unprincipled commander in chief,” explicitly blaming the former president for the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6. “Nothing was more troubling than the horrific Trump-inspired assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021,” he wrote.
According to Esper, Trump was the “biggest leaker of all” in the administration and it was “generally bad” for the country. He said Trump viewed US allies like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “weak,” while perceiving US adversaries like Russian President Vladimir Putin as “strong.” And he decried Trump’s unprecedented effort to overturn the 2020 election as a “national embarrassment.”
Other former Trump administration officials have portrayed the former president in a similarly unflattering light.
Fiona Hill, who served as the top Russia advisor on the National Security Council under the Trump administration, last year told the Daily Beast that Trump was “a counter-intelligence and national security risk because he was so vulnerable to manipulation based on the fragility of his ego.”
John Bolton, who served as national security advisor in the Trump administration, in his 2020 memoir characterized Trump as having a poor grasp of basic facts surrounding national security and foreign policy. According to Bolton, for example, Trump once asked if Finland was part of Russia.
Retired Marine Corps Gen. Jim Mattis, who served as defense secretary in the Trump administration prior to Esper, in 2020 said Trump was “the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try.” Mattis suggested Trump was a threat to the Constitution, stating, “We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.”
In media appearances over the course of the past week, Esper expanded on his criticism of Trump in his book and echoed what other former advisors have said about the former president. Esper on Monday told Fox News that Trump “threatens our democracy,” citing the former president’s role in sparking the fatal Capitol riot on January 6 and his efforts to overturn the election. The former Pentagon chief also told MSNBC on Tuesday that he would not vote for Trump if he runs again in 2024.
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