Defense Secretary Mark Esper said at a press briefing Wednesday that he does not support invoking the Insurrection Act, an 1807 law that permits the president to use active-duty troops on U.S. soil, in order to quell protests against racial injustice.
Why it matters: President Trump threatened this week to deploy military forces if state and local governments aren’t able to squash violent protests. Axios reported on Wednesday that Trump is backing off the idea for now, but that he hasn’t ruled it out.
What they’re saying: “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 said. “We are not in one of those situations now.”
Behind the scenes: Multiple sources close to the president tell Axios’ Jonathan Swan they were perplexed by the NBC interview and wondered what Esper was trying to achieve. The combination of that interview plus Wednesday’s press conference — in which he undercut the president — has the Secretary of Defense in precarious standing with the White House.
The big picture: Esper attempted to clean up a number of comments he made earlier this week, including about the need to “dominate the battlespace” in a call with governors: “In retrospect I would use different wording so as not to distract or allow some to suggest we were militarizing the issue,” he told reporters.
- Contradicting comments he made to NBC News Tuesday, Esper also said that he did, in fact, know that Trump was leading him to St. John’s Church on Monday after police forcibly cleared protesters from outside the White House.
- “I did know we were going to the church,” Esper. “I did not know a photo op was happening. … I do everything I can to try to stay apolitical and to try and stay out of situations that may appear political.”
- Esper also said that an investigation has been launched into the use of a medevac helicopter to hover low over protesters in Washington as a “show of force,” and called the killing of George Floyd by police a “horrible crime.”
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Axios