USA

Defense chief opposes sending troops to quell protests

Trump's visit to church sparks outrage

Washington — Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday that he opposes invoking the centuries-old Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty troops to states to quell protests, directly contradicting President Trump, who threatened on Monday to send the military to states that are unable to "dominate the streets" in response to large demonstrations.

"The option to use active-duty military should only be as a last resort. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act," Esper said in a press conference at the Pentagon. The law, originally signed by Thomas Jefferson in 1807, allows the president to send military troops to a state if requested by the state legislature or governor. A provision of the law enacted in 1956 also allows the president to unilaterally deploy troops and federalize state national guard units in certain cases, including to suppress a rebellion.

During his speech Monday evening in the White House Rose Garden, Mr. Trump said, "If a city or a state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them."

Mr. Trump's words on Monday came as federal law enforcement officers were forcefully dispersing protesters from the streets outside the White House. Joined by several members of his Cabinet, including Esper, Mr. Trump then walked through the cleared-out area for a photo opportunity in front of St. John's Episcopal Church, which had been damaged by a small fire set by protesters on Sunday.

Esper said in an interview with NBC News on Tuesday that he was not given notice that the president would be visiting the church.

"I didn't know where I was going," Esper said. "I wanted to see how much damage actually happened."

"My aim is to keep the department out of politics and stay apolitical," Esper said. He added that he was not aware of the plans to clear the park before Mr. Trump's walk, saying he wasn't at the command post when the order was given. CBS News has confirmed that Attorney General William Barr was part of the decision to expand the perimeter around the White House.

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