The officials told the Journal that allies and advisers on Capitol Hill talked Trump out of the move after he asked their opinion about the disagreement. Esper, some of the officials said, had made his own preparations to resign — including preparing a resignation letter — but was convinced by aides not to go forward with it.
Speaking from the Pentagon briefing room podium, Esper noted that “we are not in one of those situations now,” distancing himself from Trump’s threat to deploy the military to enforce order.
“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. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act,” he told reporters, referring to an 1807 law that allows a president to deploy the US military to suppress civil disorder.
In a briefing last week, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany would not directly answer whether Trump still had confidence in Esper, saying instead, “As of right now, Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper.”
“With regard to whether the President has confidence, I would say if he loses confidence in Secretary Esper, I’m sure you all will be the first to know,” McEnany said during the press briefing.
“Should the President lose faith, we will all learn about that in the future,” she added.
As tear gas wafted through the air in Lafayette Square across from the White House, Trump announced from the Rose Garden that if state or city leaders refused “to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents,” he would invoke the Insurrection Act.
“Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”
CNN’s Zachary Cohen, Kaitlan Collins, Kevin Liptak, Vivian Salama and Jim Acosta contributed to this report.