In his new book, A Sacred Oath, published earlier this week, former Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper revealed that in 2020, President Donald J. Trump floated the idea of sending missiles to Mexico to “destroy the drug labs”. and asked why the military couldn’t “just shoot” pro-racial justice protesters in Washington in the legs.
Mr Esper also described his concerns that Mr Trump could abuse the military during the 2020 election, for example by asking soldiers to confiscate ballot boxes.
When a Fox News anchor Monday asked if he thought President Trump was “a threat to democracy,” Mr. Esper was blunt.
“I think that given the events of January 6th, given how he undermined the election results, he encouraged people to come to DC, stirred them up that morning and didn’t cancel them, which I think is our democracy threatened,” he said.
“So yes?” asked the host, Bret Baier.
Mr. Esper replied, “What else can you close, Bret?”
This comment, from a man who has also served as Secretary of the Army and Chief of Staff of the conservative Heritage Foundation, was seen by some as a chillingly direct condemnation. But Mr Esper wasn’t the first former Trump administration official to go beyond criticism of President Trump’s temperament or specific policies and say he poses a threat to American democracy itself.
Here is a compilation of comments from Mr. Esper and other former officials made during and after President Trump’s administration.
MARK T.ESPER, Secretary of Defense (July 2019-November 2020)
“It was a very disturbing event. For now it was an uprising, an attempt to overthrow a free and fair election and prevent the peaceful transfer of power. and it [sic] right to be charged.”
— Interview with Judy Woodruff, “PBS NewsHour,” May 6, commentary on the January 6 riot
STEPHANIE GRISHAM, White House Press Secretary and Communications Director (July 2019-April 2020)
“Everyone is showing their allegiance to them, he is on his revenge spree on people who dared to vote for impeachment. I just want to warn people, once he takes office he doesn’t have to worry about re-election if he wins, he’ll want revenge, he’ll probably have pretty draconian policies.”
— interview on Good Morning America, Oct. 4, 2021, in which she also said she would urge Mr. Trump “not to run” in 2024.
MILES TAYLOR, Chief of Staff, Department of Homeland Security (February 2019-September 2019) and author of the anonymously published book “A Warning”
“I’m still amazed at the countless Trump officials who have privately agreed with me that he poses a threat to democracy but are *still* silent. Why?”
— Twitter, June 11, 2021
JOHN F KELLY, Secretary of Homeland Security (January 2017–July 2017) and White House Chief of Staff (July 2017–January 2019)
“What happened yesterday on Capitol Hill is a direct result of him poisoning people’s minds with lies and deceit.”
— Interview with Jake Tapper, CNN, January 7, 2021
HR MCMASTER, former National Security Advisor (February 2017-April 2018)
“It’s a gift to our opponents who want to shake our faith in who we are, shake our faith in our democratic principles and institutions and processes.”
– Interview with Chuck Todd in “Meet the Press”, September 27, 2020, in which he commented on President Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election
JOHN R BOLTON, former National Security Advisor (April 2018-Sept. 2019)
“The concern I have as a conservative Republican is that once the election is over and the president wins, the political compulsions will be gone. And because it has no philosophical basis, there is no telling what will happen in a second term.”
– Interview with Martha Raddatz, ABC News, June 21, 2020, in which he also said President Trump poses a “danger to the republic.”
JAMES N. MATTIS, Secretary of Defense (January 2017-January 2019)
“When I joined the military about 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never would I have dreamed that troops taking the same oath would, under any circumstances, be ordered to violate the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens — let alone offer the elected commander-in-chief a bizarre photo op with the military leadership at his side. “
“We know we are better than the abuse of executive power that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would mock our Constitution.”
– Statement released by The Atlantic, June 3, 2020, following the eviction of protesters from Lafayette Square in Washington, DC
REX W.TILLERSON, former Secretary of State (February 2017-March 2018)
“When our leaders try to hide the truth, or when we as human beings accept alternative realities that are no longer based on fact, then as American citizens we are on a path to giving up our freedom.”
“Unless, as Americans, we face the crisis of ethics and integrity in our society and among our leaders in both the public and private sectors – and, regrettably, sometimes even in the nonprofit sector – then American democracy as we know it, into their twilight.”
— Inaugural Address at Virginia Military Institute, May 16, 2018