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Pentagon Chief Breaks With Trump on Use of Military to Quell Protests

FILE - President Donald Trump departs the White House to walk to St. John's Church in Washington, June 1, 2020. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is to Trump's right.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says he does not support using the military to quell protests around the country, as suggested earlier this week by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Speaking at a Pentagon briefing Wednesday, Esper told reporters he did not support invoking the Insurrection Act, which would allow Trump to use active duty troops for law enforcement to help contain street protests in response the death of George Floyd, the African American man who died while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department.

Esper said, “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. We are not in one of those situations now. “

In remarks Monday from the White House Rose Garden, Trump said that if the nation’s governors could not control protests in their states, he would send in the U.S. military to do the job.

Esper was also asked about the now infamous photo opportunity that he was part of Monday, for which law enforcement forcibly cleared peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park across from the White House so the president could walk through it. Esper later stood alongside the president as Trump held up a Bible.

Esper said he had not been aware at the time that he was about to participate in a photo opportunity. He says he tries to keep the defense department out of politics, but said he is often unsuccessful in those efforts.

The defense secretary condemned the actions taken by the Minneapolis Police Department in the death of George Floyd. He said he hoped to see peaceful demonstrations that honor the memory of Floyd, press for accountability for his death and move the nation to reflect about racism in America.