According to Mr Esper, Mr Trump seemed more emboldened and erratic after he was acquitted in his initial impeachment trial. Mr. Esper writes that staffing choices reflected that reality, as Mr. Trump tried to tighten his grip on the executive branch with demands of personal loyalty.
One of Mr Trump’s wishes was to put 10,000 men on active duty on the streets of Washington on June 1, 2020, after major protests against police brutality erupted following the police killing of George Floyd. Mr. Trump asked Mr. Esper to the protesters, “Can’t you just shoot them?”
Mr. Esper described an episode nearly a month earlier in which Mr. Trump, whose re-election prospects were reformed by his repeated tampering with the response to the coronavirus pandemic, behaved so erratically during a May 9 meeting on China with the Joint Chiefs of Personnel whose officer was alarmed. The unidentified officer confided to Mr Esper months later that the meeting prompted him to examine the 25th Amendment, which allows the vice president and members of the cabinet to remove a president from office, to see what was needed. and under what circumstances it might have been used.
Mr. Esper writes that he never believed that Mr. Trump’s conduct was so high that it was necessary to invoke the 25th Amendment. He also makes an effort to give Mr Trump credit where he thinks he deserves it. Nevertheless, in 2020, Mr. Esper paints a portrait of someone who is not in control of his emotions or his thinking process.
Mr. Esper singles out officials he viewed as erratic or dangerous influences on Mr. Trump, with policy adviser Stephen Miller topping the list. He says Mr Miller suggested sending 250,000 troops to the southern border and claimed a large caravan of migrants was on the way. “The US armed forces don’t have 250,000 troops to send to the border for such nonsense,” Esper wrote.
In October 2019, after members of the national security team gathered in the Situation Room to see a report of the raid that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Mr. Miller for the head of Mr. al-Baghdadi and paint it in pig’s blood and parade it to warn other terrorists, writes Mr. Esper. That would be a “war crime,” Mr Esper retorted.
Mr. Miller flatly denied the episode, calling Mr. Esper “an idiot.”
Mr. Esper also viewed Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s last White House chief of staff, as a huge problem for the administration and the national security team in particular. Mr. Meadows often threw the president’s name around when barking orders, but Mr. Esper makes it clear that he was often unsure whether Mr. Meadows was communicating what Mr. Trump wanted or what Mr. Meadows wanted.