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Donald Trump's own Pentagon chief publicly tells him NOT to use the Insurrection Act

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters Wednesday he was opposed to invoking the 1807 Insurrection Act to send the U.S. military to impose control of cities – even as the president talked tough on Twitter and ordered an infantry battalion to Washington, D.C.

It was a statement that caught the White House off guard at a time President Trump is brandishing his maximum authority – and could put Esper's job in jeopardy.

Esper made the public statement of opposition to the idea after the White House publicly floated it on Monday – and after the administration took heat for the use of tear gas and rubber bullets to clear protesters out of Lafayette Park just before Esper joined President Donald Trump at a photo-op.

Just hours after he spoke at the Pentagon, Defense officials said some of the active duty military troops flown into the Washington region to deal with civil unrest were being sent home.

About 200 members of the 82nd Airborne were to depart the region Wednesday, officials told the Associated Press. They are among a group of 1,600 infantry and military police being held at basis in Maryland and Virginia outside Washington, after President Trump repeatedly urged use of military force to regain control of city streets across the country.

Esper made public comments while facing political pressure. 'I say this not only as secretary of defense, but also as a former soldier and a former member of the National Guard,' Esper told reporters at a Pentagon press conference as he announced his position.

'The option to use active duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations,' he said.

'We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act,' he added. 

Esper's public rebellion raised immediate questions inside the White House over how long he can survive.

 'As of right now secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper, and should the president lose faith we will all learn about that in the future,' white House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said when asked if Trump still has confidence in him. 

McEnany was asked if Esper had made his views on the Insurrection Act known to the president before his public statement, as well as whether Trump had confidence in him. 

'Not that I’m aware of in terms of expressing his opinion,' she responded. 'And I wouldn’t get into the private conversations that went on here in the White House. And with regard to whether the president has confidence, I would say if he loses confidence in Secretary Esper I’m sure you all will be the first to know,' she said.  

McEnany referred to the Insurrection Act as a 'tool' the president could use.

'The president has the sole authority to invoke the Insurrection Act. It is definitely a tool within his power. This president has one singular aim, it is protecting america’s streets. We cannot have burning churches,' she said, referencing the damage to St. John's on Sunday night. 

'The Insurrection Act is a tool available,' she said.

Esper also defended the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Army General Mark Milley, for walking around the White House dressed in combat uniform, saying it was 'appropriate,' after a series of retired generals voice anger at both men's conduct and warned they were politicizing the military.

Esper, a former member of the D.C. National Guard, spoke hours after the Pentagon announced the composition of active-duty forces being dispatched to Washington, D.C. - but just after he spoke, some of those federal troops were ordered home amid signs of mounting concern inside the senior military ranks at their involvement in the capital.

A total of 1,600 forces were moved to bases in the area as a 'prudent planning measure in response to ongoing support to civil authorities operations,' the Pentagon said.

'The Department of Defense moved multiple active duty Army units into the National Capitol Region as a The Secretary of Defense authorized the movement of an infantry battalion designated Task Force 504, assigned to the Army’s Immediate Response Force based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina,' it said in a statement.

'I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act,' said Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who said active duty forces should only be used for law enforcement in the homeland as a 'last resort'

His public statement comes despite a report by the New York Times that Esper favored use of the Act, as did Vice President Mike Pence. The paper reported that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley was against the idea, believing he had enough Guard troops in place to provide support. Attorney General Bill Barr, who reportedly authorized the clearing of the park, favored deferring to states' rights on the issue, the paper reported. 

Esper made the statement at a press conference where he also claimed he had no idea where he was going when Trump led members of his administration on a walk to St. John's Episcopal Church for a controversial photo shoot.

He also insisted he had 'no idea' that force would be used to clear out peaceful protesters ahead of the staged trip. 

The performance may not have gone over well at the White House. President Trump was 'not happy' with it, CNN reported – after Esper put distance between himself and the White House both on the photo-op and on the Insurrection Act.

I was just INSPECTING the bunker under the White House when I went there 'two and a half' or three times during protests claims Donald Trump 

President Donald Trump said he went down to the White House bunker during the protests in Washington D.C. to inspect it and not because of any possible threat.

He denied a report he was taken into the secure shelter by Secret Service agents on Friday night out of concerns for his safety.

'I go down, I've gone down two or three times - all for inspection - and you go there, some day you may need it,' he said Wednesday on Brian Kilmeade's FOX News Radio show. 'I went down. I looked at it. It was during the day, it was not a problem.'

The president reportedly spent an hour there Friday night as hundreds of protesters gathered outside the White House, some of them throwing rocks and tugging at police barricades.  

Trump was said to be furious at the image of himself in the underground bolt hole, which was designed for use in emergencies like a terrorist attack. His tough crack down on protesters and march to St. John's Church across from the White House on Monday - where police used gas and rubber bullets to clear peaceful demonstrators from the area to make way for the president - was, in part, a response to the bunker reports.

He described his time in the underground room as 'more for an inspection.'

'I was there for a tiny, short little period of time,' he told Kilmeade in a 30-minute interview on Wednesday morning. 'A whole group of people went with me as an inspecting factor.'

'They said it would be a good time to go down and take a look because maybe sometime you're going to need it,' he noted. 'I've been down - that'd be number two, so two and half sort of, because I've done different things, but two and a half.'

'But I looked I was down for a very very short period of time, a very very short period of time, I can't tell you who went with me but a whole group of people went with me,' Trump added. 

 - By Emily Goodin, Senior U.S. Political Reporter For Dailymail.com

Even as Esper cautioned against exercising the authority to use military troops at home, Trump continued to broadcast his 'law and order' posture on Twitter. The Pentagon's Northern Command also dispatched troops from the 16th Military Police Brigade headquarters from Fort Bragg and the 91st Military Police Battalion from Fort Drum, New York.

Esper's blunt opposition to using the Insurrection Act came amid some signs of new success by police in gaining order. Events on the street were calmer in New York City on the second night of a curfew officials imposed after looting in Manhattan.

Last night we took a step forward in moving out of this difficult period we've had the last few days and moving to a better time," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. 

The NYPD  blocking 5,000 protesters from entering Manhattan by holding them up on the Manhattan Bridge after a standoff, making 280 arrests.

Trump claimed on Tuesday that the city was 'totally out of control'. On Wednesday, he said the National Guard was 'ready'. 

There was also more calm in Washington, D.C., where law enforcement installed a new security fence after clearing Lafayette Square. Thousands marched on the White House and the U.S. Capitol, but there was less tension and there was not a repeat of a rash of vandalism that ocrurred Sunday night. 

A large gathering of peaceful protesters booed a man who ripped down a 16th Street sign near the White House, at the spot where police moved on another batch of peaceful protesters Monday.

Trump demanded Wednesday that police ‘get tough’ after a sixth night of nation-wide protests – but privately, the president is backing off his plan to send in federal troops to stifle rioters.

While President Trump launched a more than 35-tweet tirade Wednesday morning, in part claiming that the violent protesters are ‘domestic terrorists,’ he also abandoned his idea to dispatch the military after officials claimed local governments should take charge, the Associated Press reported.

Trump told members of his cabinet over the last week that he wants to send the military into American cities – a proposal that led to a heated yelling-match between those supporting the notion and those opposed. 

Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary Mark Esper supported the idea, claiming it would give the federal government quicker control over the situation than if it were to take over and activate the National Guard.

Attorney General Bill Barr and Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, however, warned against the plan.

Barr was concerned with infringing on states’ rights if the military were deployed to different cities across the country facing riots and Gen. Milley assured the president he had enough force in D.C. to secure the city.

He also did not want to put active-duty military in such a domestic role.

The divide over the plan grew tentious during the Monday morning discussion as administration officials began raising their voices at one another, according to The New York Times. 

Protesters leave the Manhattan Bridge after being stopped by police last night during an 8pm curfew which thousands ignored but which was followed by less rampant destruction than on previous days in New York City 

The NYPD stopped 5,000 protesters from entering Manhattan by blocking them on the Manhattan Bridge on Tuesday night. The protesters retreated after 2 hours 

5,000 protesters were stopped from entering Manhattan after walking across the Manhattan Bridge on Tuesday night 

New report: Donald Trump has privately backed down on his demand that active duty military be deployed to quell riots after administration officials raised their voices in debating the plan

The decision to abandon the plan came Monday as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters in front of St. John's Episcopal to disperse the crowd for the president's photo-op in front of the church, which was set on fire in Sunday riots outside the White House

Even though he privately abandoned the plan to show even a greater image of force in the nation's capital, Trump still told police Wednesday to 'get tough' as riots continued in cities across the country in a sixth night of violent protests in the wake of George Floyd's death

Trump finally decided to break with his original plan and instead opted for a stunt where law enforcement dispersed protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets from Lafayette Park, across from the North Lawn of the White House.

After protesters were cleared, the president walked across the park to St. John’s Episcapol church, which was set on fire in riots Sunday night, for a photo-op with his bible and members of his cabinet.

Administration officials privately acknowledged Monday’s events did not do the administration any justice.

Even some Republican lawmakers who are typically in sync with the president said Trump went too far in using force to clear the way for his less than five-minute visit to the church.

“There is no right to riot, no right to destroy others’ property, and no right to throw rocks at police,” Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse said. “But there is a fundamental — a constitutional — right to protest, and I’m against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the Word of God as a political prop.”

On Tuesday, a senior White House official said the president wanted to make the aggressive action an example for the rest of the country.

Despite his decision not to deploy the military, Trump continued to insist that ‘The National Guard is ready!’ on Twitter Wednesday.

He has continuously urged governors to activate the National Guard in their states so cities destroyed by rioters could be policed by the Army reservist unit.

Trump shared images of his Twitter of Fifth Avenue in New York City boarding up all of its high-end businesses after several were looted and destroyed in riots in the past week as he again promoted activating the National Guard.

‘LAW & ORDER!’ he urged in another tweet . 

President Trump claimed Wednesday that protesters are acting as ‘domestic terrorists’ and told law enforcement to ‘get tough’ on rioters.

'CNN says there are some fine people marching with the looters and domestic terrorists,' Trump shared in a retweet from comic strip creator and satire author Scott Adams.

He also urged in another tweet: 'Get tough police!' after law enforcement in Milwaukee, Wisconsin revealed Tuesday night that violent protesters threw molotov cocktails at their force. 

'Molotov cocktails are lethal force, and from their very origins, a 'weapon of war' (thanks Finland!),' Buck Sexton, who formerly worked for the CIA and NYPD Intelligence Division, wrote on Twitter – and the president shared to his profile.

'If you throw a Molotov cocktail at police, you should spend a very long time in prison,' Sexton, who now hosts a podcast, continued. 

The Twitter tirade from Trump comes after a sixth night of violent protests broke out across the country in the wake of George Floyd's death – and the president is seeking to make the use of force in Washington, D.C an example for other cities experiencing mayhem. 

Demonstrators continued to flood the nation's capital – even past the 7:00 p.m. city-wide curfew – but not nearly as much destruction was done Wednesday night as night's prior

The president sent out a more than 35-tweet tirade where he asserted the 'National Guard is ready!' as stores had to prepare for more nights of riots, looting and arson by boarding up their windows

Officials claim the president wanted to make Washington, D.C. an example of the 'show of force' other cities should implement to quell the violence 

On Tuesday evening, 700 soldiers dressed in riot gear and armed with bayonets arrived at military bases near Washington, and another 1,400 were prepared  to mobilize

Defense officials revealed that Trump, before abandoning the plan, considered using 'tanks' or other armored military vehicles to help restore order, and threatened to deploy active duty military across the country to quell the unrest. 

The revelation of a more 'dominating' approach to taking control of the streets of D.C. comes as 700 soldiers dressed in riot gear and armed with bayonets arrived at two military bases near Washington on Tuesday evening.

Another 1,400 were also brought in and prepared to mobilize as the nation's capital braced for another night of chaos.

Hundreds of members of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division were called earlier after Trump promised a more aggressive approach on the violence and riots unfolding across the country.

Defense officials told the Associated Press that the U.S. Military and National Guard were operating under the mission name 'Operation Themis' - named after the titaness of divine law and order.

Trump asserted Monday evening in a Rose Garden address to the nation that he is America’s ‘law and order president.’ 

As Trump made the remarks on Monday, law enforcement officials were pushing out hundreds of protesters from Washington's Lafayette Park, ahead of the district's 7:00 p.m. curfew.

A senior White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, revealed on Tuesday that Trump hoped to make the aggressive action in Washington an example for the rest of the country.

On Monday night, military helicopters also hovered over demonstrators in a tactic to disperse the crowds.

Two Pentagon officials also told AP that the president had ordered military aircraft to fly above the capital as a 'show of force' against violent protesters. 

President Donald J. Trump returns after posing with a bible outside St. John's Episcopal Church after delivering remarks in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington

Many of the protesters stood firm as the helicopters made several passes overhead

Videos posted to Twitter showed demonstrators quaking beneath deafening gusts

They did not say how many or what type of aircraft had been mobilized.

Videos and photographs posted on social media showed helicopters flying low over buildings and hovering just above groups who were on the street despite a district-wide curfew.

Law enforcement paired the tactic with heavy use of tear gas, pellets and chemical spray as protesters marched toward the White House.

Trump's tactics were decried on Tuesday by some fellow Republicans as well as his presumptive Democratic opponent Joe Biden. 

Show-of-force missions are designed to intimidate and, in combat zones, warn opposing forces of potential military action if provoked. 

Three senior defense officials also told The Daily Beast that the idea of deploying military forces was being pushed by the White House, not the Pentagon.

The sources revealed Trump consulted with aides about using military vehicles or 'the kind of hardware' used by the armed forces, to help bring the chaos under control.

Hundreds of army soldiers armed with bayonets arrived  at two military bases near Washington on Tuesday evening (pictured: 82nd Airborne Division soldier holding a bayonet in 2015)

One official said Trump did not specifically order 'tanks' to patrol the streets, but said he mentioned it in discussions because 'I think that is just one of the military words he knows'. 

It comes as 700 soldiers dressed in riot gear and armed with bayonets arrived at two military bases near Washington on Tuesday evening, while another 1,400 are preparing to mobilize, as the nation's capital braces for another night of chaos. 

Hundreds of members of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division were called earlier after Trump promised a more aggressive approach on the violence and riots unfolding across the country. 

Defense officials told AP the US military and National Guard were operating under the mission name 'Operation Themis' - named after the titaness of divine law and order.      

Moments after the historic Lafayette Park was cleared of protesters on Monday, Trump walked across to pose with a Bible in front of a church damaged by fire during protests the previous evening.

He hoped his personal walk to the church would send a message about how dominant force could restore law and order, sources said. 

Protesters hold their hands up and try to steady themselves as a military helicopter flies low pushing a strong vertical down wash of air (rotor wash) onto the crowd

'D.C. had no problems last night. Many arrests. Great job done by all. Overwhelming force. Domination,' Trump tweeted Tuesday, after a night in which heavily armed military forces and federal officers swarmed the city. 

Trump added: '(thank you President Trump!).' 

In an evening address in the Rose Garden on Monday, Trump called on governors to ramp up the National Guard presence in their states to tamp down the protests.

 If they didn't abide by those orders, Trump said, he would dispatch the military to their states - a step rarely taken in modern American history. 

'SILENT MAJORITY!' Trump tweeted Tuesday, embracing a phrase popularized by President Richard Nixon decades ago, in claiming broad support for his actions. Trump also emphasized the political importance of the moment to his supporters on Twitter and declared that 'My Admin has done more for the Black Community than any President since Abraham Lincoln.'

The District of Columbia's federal status gives the president outsized authority to act, allowing him to direct the deployment of the National Guard. 

He authorized Attorney General William Barr to oversee a surge in the deployment of federal law enforcement officers, including the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team and agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sought to distance themselves from Monday night's events after former military officials criticized their appearance with the president. 

Senior defense officials told reporters the two were not aware that the Park Police and law enforcement had made a decision to clear the square or that Trump intended to visit the church. 

They had been in Washington to coordinate with federal law enforcement officials but were diverted to the White House to brief Trump on military preparations, the officials said.

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