Esper says he didn’t quit despite Trump concerns so he could ‘prevent bad things’ from happening to country

During a wide-ranging interview on “Special Report” hosted by Bret Baier, Esper was asked about a series of explosive accusations he made against the former president in his new memoir, “A Sacred Oath,” where he claims that Trump wanted to shoot demonstrators who filled the streets around the White House during protests in June 2020. 

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks after he was sworn in as President Donald Trump looks on in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on July 23, 2019.  (Photo credit NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks after he was sworn in as President Donald Trump looks on in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on July 23, 2019.  (Photo credit NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images) (Getty Images)

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Pointing to the “serious concerns” Esper describes with Trump at the time, Baier asked him pointedly, “Why didn’t you quit?”

“I thought that quitting would result in my immediate dismissal, which would be a fair thing for the president to do, and I would not be there to help shape policy in a favorable direction, [and] to help push back against the bad ideas,” Esper said.

The former Defense official added that he also felt compelled to stay “to help advance the good ideas that we had achieved in the administration,” namely, Operation Warp Speed, and the establishment of Space Force.

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“There are a number of accomplishments we made as well,” he told Baier.

Baier referenced a clip from Esper’s Senate confirmation hearing, where he vowed to take decisive action if he was asked to do anything unethical during his time in the president’s cabinet.

“There are points in this book where you clearly write that you had crossed that rubicon and, yet, you don’t resign,” the host noted.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, center, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley deliver a statement on Iraq and Syria, at President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago property, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, center, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley deliver a statement on Iraq and Syria, at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci) (AP)

“I never crossed that rubicon,” Esper pushed back. “I said I would never do anything illegal, immoral or unethical. It was being suggested by the president and we successfully pushed back on that…[and] walked him back from that notion.”

“I thought my duty was to the country and it is and remains,” he continued. “And I thought it was better to stay in the job and try to shape policy to prevent bad things and advance good things for the nation, rather than resigning. I could have resigned on the spot. It would have saved me a lot of grief and a lot of headache. But I thought that would be putting myself before the country and not the other way around.”

Asked whether he thought the former president posed a threat to democracy during his time in office, Esper said, “I think that given the events of January 6th, given how he has undermined the election results…to me that threatens our democracy.”

As for Trump’s 2024 plans, Esper said he hopes his former boss decides to sit it out. 

“I hope the Republican base can figure out that while President Trump pushed a lot of traditional Republican ideas, right? Smaller government, less taxes, a stronger military, border security, that there are other candidates out there that could run that could do it without dividing the people, without creating such tension within the country and do it by growing the base as well.”

Trump on Sunday addressed Esper’s claims in a statement to 60 Minutes, calling them a “complete lie,” and said he had 10 witnesses who would back up his denial.

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