Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, making the media rounds before his book release, said in interview excerpts released on Thursday that he was “flabbergasted” by a Trump official’s proposal in spring 2020 to send as many as 250,000 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.
In the “60 Minutes” interview, Esper recounted an exchange with Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to then-President Donald Trump and the architect behind the president’s immigration agenda. Miller had suggested the U.S. send a quarter-million troops — what would have been the largest use of the military inside the country since the Civil War — to handle “caravans” at the southern border, Esper said.
“I think he’s joking,” the former Defense secretary said in the interview with CBS’ Norah O’Donnell set to air on Sunday. “And then I turn around, and I look at him in these deadpan eyes. It’s clear that he is not joking. And so I say something like, ‘Well, look, DHS can handle whatever caravans are coming up. They’ve done so in the past.’ He said — he repeats — ‘No, we need a quarter-million troops,’ and I just turned squarely around him, face him and say, ‘I don’t have a quarter-million troops to send on some ridiculous mission to the border.’”
Esper’s upcoming book, “A Sacred Oath,” is set to publish Tuesday and will add to the growing volume of material that reveals the inner workings of the Trump administration. The book will offer Esper’s “candid perspective” and shed light on unknown stories from the Trump presidency, according to The New York Times, which reported some of the upcoming memoir’s contents on Thursday.
Esper’s book in particular has been widely anticipated, given the abrupt end to his role as Pentagon chief. Trump terminated him in November 2020, right after his election defeat, sparking concerns about the stability of national security.
His new memoir will paint a picture of an unpredictable Trump, according to the Times, and what Esper says was a noticeable shift in the president’s disposition after his first impeachment trial. Esper will also name officials he saw as dangerous influences on the former president, including Miller.
In the CBS interview, Esper said he checked on Miller’s proposal with Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley to make sure the plan wasn’t progressing. He said Milley, after doing some digging, returned with a paper in hand — showing that officials had indeed developed the “initial concept of how this might happen.”
“I was just flabbergasted, that not only was the idea proposed, but that people, people in my department, were working on it,” Esper said.
He went on to call the idea “absurd,” and said he ordered Milley to shut it down and direct further questions to Esper.
“It died,” Esper said. “As it should.”
A spokesperson for Trump did not immediately respond on Thursday to a request for comment about Esper’s account.
Esper’s book will detail other shocking stories, according to Axios. Those include Trump’s reaction to protesters who were in Washington after the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis. Trump, according to Esper, asked: “Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?”
Trump also asked Esper in 2020 about the possibility of launching missiles into Mexico to “destroy the drug labs” and cartels, the Times reported Thursday. The president posed the question to his Pentagon chief at least twice.
“They don’t have control of their own country,” Trump said, according to Esper.
When Esper rejected Trump’s idea, the then-president said, “We could just shoot some Patriot missiles and take out the labs, quietly.”
“No one would know it was us,” Trump said.
Esper again thought it might be a joke, according to his book as reported by the Times, but he knew it wasn’t by the look on Trump’s face.