On Tuesday night, Esper conducted a brief interview NBC News where he offered a different perspective of the series of events that unfolded during and after Trump’s address in the Rose Garden on Monday.
According to the publication, Esper and Mark Milley were heading to the FBI’s field office in Washington, D.C., to observe the protests with Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray. However, while in route, they were diverted to the White House.
Esper noted that he received no advance notice of Trump’s plans to lead him and other senior administration officials to St. John’s Episcopal Church for the photo op. He also noted the two things he believed would be part of his personal agenda.
“I thought I was going to do two things: to see some damage and to talk to the troops,” Esper said.
He revealed he was initially eager to speak with the National Guard to commend them for their service, saying, “I am very proud of the National Guard.”
Esper added, “I wanted to go out and thank these young men and women.”
After joining the president and other administration officials, Esper believed they were going to view the vandalized bathroom in Lafayette Square, which is in close proximity to the church.
“I didn’t know where I was going,” Esper said. “I wanted to see how much damage actually happened.”
An official has also said Esper and General Mark A. Milley were not aware officers reportedly use tear gas — which the U.S. Park Police has denied using — and rubber bullets to disperse protesters and clear the street for the president’s walk.
“They were not aware that Park Police and law enforcement made the decision to clear the square,” an official said.
Esper also echoed that sentiment during the interview, saying he had “no idea” about the plan to use force with the crowd. Following the interview, Esper also released an official statement addressing the incident
Defense Sec Mark Esper in a message Tues night to US military: 'Stay apolitical' pic.twitter.com/Gev64gU7ac— Missy Ryan (@missy_ryan) June 3, 2020
Protests have continued to erupt in various states over the past week as they are gearing up for more demonstrations on Wednesday.