Former President Donald Trump on Sunday denied an accusation that he wanted to use U.S. military members to shoot protestors during civil rights demonstrations in summer 2020, but declined comment on a similar report that he suggested using missiles to attack drug cartels in Mexico.
Those allegations — and more — are included in former Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s new book “A Sacred Oath: Memoirs of a Secretary of Defense During Extraordinary Times,” which is set to be released Tuesday.
Axios reported from the book last week that as protestors filled the streets around Washington, D.C., in June 2020, Trump called Esper into the White House and asked his military chief, “Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?”
Esper wrote he was shocked by the request and had to talk the commander in chief out of the idea.
In a statement to “60 Minutes” Sunday night, Trump denied that ever happened.
“This is a complete lie, and 10 witnesses can back it up,” the former president said. “Mark Esper was weak and totally ineffective, and because of it, I had to run the military.”
Trump also took aim at other revelations in the book, including a claim that he wanted to send 10,000 active-duty troops into Washington, D.C., in response to the Black Lives Matter protests. Trump denied that, but said he wanted to call in the military for another key event.
“I wanted to send 10,000 troops for Jan. 6, because I knew many people were coming to Washington that day to protest the corrupt presidential election of 2020,” he wrote, without providing any new evidence of election fraud.
In the book Esper also stated that Trump suggested using military missiles to strike at suspected drug cartel sites in Mexico, without consultation with the Mexican government. Trump offered a “no comment” in response to the claim.
Esper was fired by Trump in November 2020, less than a week after the presidential election. Esper said the move came because he was not sufficiently loyal to Trump, but Trump said it was because Esper was “incapable of leading” the military.
In an NPR interview over the weekend, the former defense chief said he hopes Trump does not seek the presidency in 2024.
“We need leaders of integrity and character, and we need leaders who will bring people together and reach across the aisle and do what’s best for the country,” he said. “And Donald Trump doesn’t meet the mark for me on any of those issues.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.