U.S. President Donald Trump told his advisors at one point this past week he wanted 10,000 troops to deploy to the Washington D.C. area to halt civil unrest over the killing of a black man by Minneapolis police, according to a senior U.S. official.
The account of Trump’s demand during a heated Oval Office conversation on Monday shows how close the president may have come to fulfilling his threat to deploy active duty troops, despite opposition from Pentagon leadership.
At the meeting, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, and Attorney General William Barr recommended against such a deployment, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The meeting was “contentious,” the official added.
Trump has since appeared satisfied with deployments by the National Guard, the option recommended by the Pentagon and a more traditional tool for dealing with domestic crises. Pentagon leaders scrambled to call governors with requests to send Guard forces to Washington. Additional federal law enforcement were mobilized too.
But also key for Trump appears to have been Esper’s move to preposition — but not deploy — active duty soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division and other units in the Washington D.C. area. Those troops have since departed.
“Having active duty forces available but not in the city was enough for the president for the time,” the official said.
Barr told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that no active duty troops were deployed on Washington streets, but there were some military police nearby.
“We had them on standby in case they were needed,” Barr said.
Trump’s bid to militarize the U.S. response to the protests has triggered a rare outpouring of condemnation from former U.S. military officials, including Trump’s first defense secretary, Jim Mattis, and retired four-star generals who normally try to steer clear of politics.
Those comments reflect deep unease inside and outside the Pentagon with Trump’s willingness to inject the U.S. military into a domestic race relations crisis following the killing of George Floyd, 46, who died on May 25 after a Minneapolis policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Floyd’s death has led to a wave of protests and national soul-searching over the country’s legacy of violence and mistreatment of African Americans and other minorities.
It has also led some Pentagon leaders of color to issue unprecedented statements about their experiences dealing with issues of race in the U.S. military.