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Former Defense secretary: Trump asked about shooting protesters

A year and a half after getting fired, former Defense Secretary Mark Esper wants to help set the record straight about the president he used to work for.


Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender wrote a book last year on Donald Trump’s presidency, noting among other things that during social-justice protests in 2020, the then-president raised the specter of shooting American activists in the legs.

As Axios reported, the story has now been confirmed by Trump’s former Pentagon chief.

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper charges in a memoir out May 10 that former President Trump said when demonstrators were filling the streets around the White House following the death of George Floyd: “Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?”

Part of what makes anecdotes like these so striking is what we continue to learn about Trump’s twisted perspective. When the Republican talks about “law and order,” he clearly means the kind of tactics that would include a president ordering armed government personnel to open fire on American protesters on American streets.

Remember, as far as the former president was concerned, Jan. 6 rioters were “patriots“ worthy of celebration (and possible pardons). But when protesters seek criminal justice reforms, as Trump saw it, they deserved to be shot.

But let’s also note the larger context: An extraordinary number of officials who worked closely with Trump in the White House, including former cabinet secretaries, came away unimpressed with their former boss.

Indeed, Trump’s first Pentagon chief, retired Gen. James Mattis, proved to disappoint the president by being responsible, and Mattis eventually came to the conclusion that Trump was worthy of public denunciation.

Things seemed to go better for Esper, right up until the summer of 2020, when Esper expressed regret for having been a part of Trump’s scandalous Lafayette Square photo-op. Around the same time, the then-Defense secretary said he opposed quelling racial justice protests through use of the Insurrection Act.

As we’ve discussed, the then-president, true to form, felt betrayed by the Defense secretary’s reasonable concerns, and soon after, the Republican started talking openly about Esper’s ouster.

Two days after Joe Biden became president-elect, Trump fired Esper — announcing his decision via Twitter.

A year and a half later, the former cabinet secretary seems eager to help set the record straight about the man he used to work for.