Esper says he didn't know about plan to disperse protesters

Source: The Hill | June 2, 2020 | Zack Budryk

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday that he had not been aware of plans to disperse a crowd of protesters the previous evening before President Trump walked through the area to pose for photos in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Esper told NBC News in an interview that he was given no advance notice when Trump led him and other administration officials to St. John’s after police deployed pepper balls and smoke canisters to clear Lafayette Square of demonstrators shortly before the city’s 7 p.m. curfew.

“I thought I was going to do two things: to see some damage and to talk to the troops,” Esper told NBC News, referencing a bathroom in the park that had been vandalized the previous day. “I didn’t know where I was going. I wanted to see how much damage actually happened.”

Pentagon officials had earlier said both Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley were caught by surprise.

The pair “were not aware that the park police and law enforcement had made a decision to clear the square, and once they began that walk off the White House grounds with the president, they continued with him,” a senior defense official told reporters.


The interview comes the same day James Miller, who served as the U.S. undersecretary of Defense for policy from 2012 to 2014, resigned his position on the Pentagon’s science board, accusing Esper of violating his oath office by backing the dispersal of the protesters.

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