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Esper Says Trump Shouldn’t Invoke Insurrection Act to Police Protesters

U.S. News & World Report logo U.S. News & World Report 6/3/2020 Paul D. Shinkman
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Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday told reporters he does not believe the active duty military should be used to quell nationwide protesters, a highly unusual public disclosure of advice to the president of the United States usually held as closely confidential.

"I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act," the Pentagon chief said during a press conference Wednesday, citing the collection of authorities presidents have evoked a handful of times in its more than 200-year history that circumvents clear rules against the military's policing its fellow citizens.

Esper's statement came days after President Donald Trump threatened to use the active duty military to "quickly solve the problem" if state governors and local authorities didn't do more to "dominate the streets" and stop the protest movement "that has spread throughout our country."

The Pentagon late Tuesday confirmed prior reports that it had deployed active duty forces from bases in North Carolina and New York to military installations near Washington, D.C., but outside the city limits.

A protest movement has emerged since the death of a black man, George Floyd, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis. Peaceful protests across the country have been marred by occasional violent clashes as well as acts of vandalism.

Slideshow by Reuters

Esper has come under widespread criticism for joining the president in walking from the White House across Lafayette Square to St. John's Episcopal Church for a photo op on Monday after police forcibly cleared out protesters in the park.

Defense officials speaking on the condition of anonymity told reporters Tuesday morning that Esper did not know he was participating in a photo op. Esper gave an interview to NBC News later on Tuesday to offer further explanation — that he thought he was going to inspect damage and visit National Guard troops — and discussed it again during Wednesday morning's press conference.

"I do everything I can to try to appear apolitical," Esper said Wednesday — an apparent admission that the president's actions unnecessarily politicized the military. "Sometimes I'm successful in doing that. Sometimes I'm not successful."

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