1 of 4 | President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Mark Esper walk through the Colonnade at the White House in Washington, D.C., on May 15, 2020. File Photo by Stefani Reynolds/UPI | License Photo
May 6 (UPI) -- Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper writes in an upcoming memoir that President Donald Trump once asked him if the United States could fire missiles into Mexico to destroy drug labs and dangerous cartels and whether that could be kept secret, according to multiple news reports.
Esper, who was Trump's defense chief between 2019 and 2020, recounts a number of unusual conversations with the former president in A Sacred Oath, which releases on Tuesday.
The New York Times, Politico and Axios reported the contents of the book after receiving advance copies.
Esper writes in the memoir that Trump told him in 2020 that he believed a missile strike could be kept secret so that Mexico wouldn't know who was behind it. He says, in fact, that the president asked twice about such an operation.
"He is an unprincipled person who, given his self-interest, should not be in the position of public service," Esper writes in the book.
The former Pentagon chief -- who succeeded Jim Mattis in the role in mid-2019 after a different appointee, Patrick Shanahan, withdrew his nomination -- details a number of conversations he had with Trump on various issues, including the Black Lives Matter movement and the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
During the outcry and national protests in the summer of 2020 following Floyd's death, Esper says in the book that Trump had asked of the demonstrators, "Can't you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something."
President Donald Trump walks from the White House to St. John's Episcopal Church about a block away in Washington, D.C., on June 1, 2020. To help him get there, federal police cleared out crowds of protesters in a move that was widely condemned. File Photo by Shawn Thew/UPI
According to Esper, Trump also wanted to put thousands of active-duty military troops throughout the streets of Washington, D.C., to quell the protests. In early June of 2020, a Pentagon science adviser quit in protest over Esper's role in clearing out a crowd of protesters near the White House so that Trump could walk to a nearby church for a photo opportunity. The decision drew widespread condemnation for both Esper and Trump.
Trump's handling of immigration is another topic that the memoir touches on from Esper's point of view.
In media interviews promoting the book, Esper said he was "flabbergasted" when Trump adviser Stephen Miller suggested sending a quarter-million troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to handle caravans of migrants as part of the administration's "zero tolerance" policy.
In an interview for CBS' 60 Minutes scheduled to air Sunday, he said he first thought the suggestion was a joke, but quickly realized that it was serious.
"I don't have a quarter-million troops to send on some ridiculous mission to the border," Esper says he responded.
Esper added that when he learned that Trump officials had gone so far as to develop an initial planning concept, he ordered Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to shut down the effort.
In another episode, Esper recounts that Miller suggested that the head of killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi should be cut off and smeared with pig's blood as a warning to terrorists. Al-Baghdadi was killed in a U.S. military strike in Syria in 2019. Esper says that he advised that doing so would constitute a war crime.
Further in the memoir, Esper describes that he, Milley and U.S. Attorney General William Barr were once berated by an angry Trump as "[expletive] losers" -- and that the former president railed against Vice President Mike Pence with "foul insults" when he refused to attempt to overturn the 2020 election.