Secretary of Defense Mark Esper testifies during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on July 9, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper testifies during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on July 9, 2020, in Washington, D.C. (Greg Nash/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper testified that he and others had to dissuade then-President Donald Trump from using active-duty military troops to quell the racial protests breaking out in the summer of 2020.

Trump was upset about the civil unrest around the country in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, believing it made the U.S. look weak, Esper said, according to a transcript of his April 1, 2022 deposition by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

The committee has been releasing transcripts of some of its interviews in batches this week and plans to release more in coming days. It is also expected to release its final report on what it learned over a probe that took a year and a half and included interviews with more than 1,000 people.

Esper, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, was named secretary of the army in 2017 and acting defense secretary in 2019. He left the administration the next year.

Esper said he and other top officials, including then Attorney General William Barr, were able to convince Trump there was no adequate predicate for the potential use of the military, including in response to tensions in Lafayette Park across from the White House.

Trump never seemed to have “embraced” the concept that the military should have a secondary role, particularly, for domestic disturbances, he said. “I don’t think he ever embraced it because we would, at subsequent meetings, come back with his inclination to use, again, the military first, the Guard later.”

In another transcript released Thursday, an Ohio carpenter who entered the Capitol with the mob on Jan. 6 said he wished the president had told the crowd to go home earlier than he did — hours after it had broken into the building to try and prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s win.

Stephen Ayres, who pleaded guilty to entering the building, blamed Trump’s “fiery tweets” for stoking the passions of the crowd that day that led to the riot in the Capitol. “It probably helped build and added fuel to that fire,” he said.


(Bloomberg News writers Bill Allison, William Turton, Mike Dorning and Erik Larson contributed to this report.)


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