Trump defence secretary sues Pentagon over memoir redactions

Mark Esper says the department ‘arbitrarily’ redacted the manuscript, which details his time in the Donald Trump administration.

Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has sued the Pentagon over redactions to his unpublished memoir [File: Alex Brandon/AP]

Former Pentagon chief Mark Esper has accused the Department of Defense of needlessly censoring his “unvarnished and candid memoir” detailing his time in the administration of former President Donald Trump, according to a new lawsuit.

Esper’s memoir, titled A Sacred Oath, highlights his time as army secretary from 2017 to 2019, as well as the 18 months he spent as Pentagon chief under Trump.

In the lawsuit, the period is described as “an unprecedented time of civil unrest, public health crises, growing threats abroad, Pentagon transformation, and a White House seemingly bent on circumventing the Constitution”.

However, the lawsuit alleges, “Significant text is being improperly withheld from publication … under the guise of classification. The withheld text is crucial to telling important stories discussed in the manuscript.”

Esper and Trump were sharply divided over the use of the military during civil unrest in June 2020 following the killing of George Floyd.

Other issues, including Esper’s opposition to withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, led the president to believe Esper was not sufficiently loyal. Esper has said he was trying to keep the department apolitical.

Trump fired Esper in a tweet days after he lost the 2020 election, allowing the president to install loyalists in top Pentagon positions as he continued to dispute the results.

The lawsuit quotes from a letter Esper sent to current Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin criticising the six-month review process.

He wrote that he had been asked not to quote Trump and others in meetings, not to describe conversations he had with Trump, and not to use certain verbs or nouns when describing historical events.

The letter says some 60 pages of the manuscript contained redactions of some kind.

Agreeing to all of those redactions would result in “a serious injustice to important moments in history that the American people need to know and understand”, Esper wrote.

The lawsuit also notes some stories in the manuscript appear to have been leaked to the press, “possibly to undermine the impact” of the book.

“I am more than disappointed the current Administration is infringing on my First Amendment constitutional rights,” Esper said in a subsequent statement. “And it is with regret that legal recourse is the only path now available for me to tell my full story to the American people.”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the department was aware of Esper’s concerns.

“As with all such reviews, the Department takes seriously its obligation to balance national security with an author’s narrative desire. Given that this matter is now under litigation, we will refrain from commenting further,” he said in a statement.

Source: News Agencies