Trump still backing defence secretary despite comments over military, press secretary says

Using active-duty troops remains an option for Donald Trump, White House press secretary says

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Wednesday 03 June 2020 20:30
Secretary of Defense breaks with Trump on using military against US citizens

Donald Trump still has confidence in Mark Esper despite the defence secretary breaking with the president over whether to use active-duty military troops to quell protests around George Floyd's death while in police custody.

"As of now, Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper," White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Wednesday. "Should [he] lose faith, we will all learn about that in the future."

Mr Esper said he is opposed to the president possible using his powers under the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty military forces to quell protests in many US major cities objecting to Mr Floyd's death at the hands of white police officers in Minneapolis; Mr Floyd was a black man. The defence secretary told reporters earlier in the day that using active forces should be a "last" option for Mr Trump.

On that act, Ms McEnany said Mr Trump considers using it still an option as she railed against protests she called "riots."

That is in stark contrast to what the defence secretary said at his own press conference.

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," he said. "We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act."

Meantime, in an eye-brow raising moment, the top White House spokeswoman said the decision to force protesters outside the White House off H Street NW using chemical smoke bombs, rubber bullets and force was made by Attorney General William Barr.

It was an attempt not to clear a path for the president to, as he did that evening, walk to St. John's Church to pose with a Bible after a Rose Garden address threatening to deploy US military troops to put down the protests, but because Trump administration officials wanted to keep that church from burning for a second consecutive night, she claimed. Federal law enforcement officials, as she did, say there was no tear gas deployed; protesters and journalists who were on the scene report the opposite, with some saying they needed milk to clear their eyes.

But it was not clear how Mr Barr had the authority to give such an order to US Secret Service and US Park Police officers, or the DC National Guard forces that were supporting them. The Service is within the Department of Homeland Security. The Park Police resides within the Interior Department. And the National Guard is an arm of the Army and Pentagon.


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