Trump Wanted to Reinstate Retired Officers to Face Court-Martial for 'Disloyalty,' New Book Claims

Former Sec. of Defense Mark Esper writes in A Sacred Oath about talking the president out of a plan to punish U.S. Navy Adm. William McRaven and retired U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal 

donald trump
Donald Trump. Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump was so determined to hit back at two retired military officers who'd criticized him that he considered recalling them to active duty so he could open court-martial proceedings, former Sec. of Defense Mark Esper writes in his new book.

In A Sacred Oath, out Tuesday, Esper claims he and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, talked the president out of a plan to reactivate retired U.S. Navy Adm. William McRaven and retired U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal so they might be disciplined.

"Doing this 'will backfire on you, Mr. President,' we said," Esper writes, according to Insider.

Trump told the then-secretary of defense and Milley that McRaven and McChrystal were "so disloyal" for criticizing the president in interviews and in published op-eds.

He also believed McChrystal was helping Democrats to "track down and counter Trump supporters" with artificial intelligence, writes Esper, who said the former president was "spun up" by media reports about the claims.

McRaven, a former head of U.S. Special Operations Command, led the operation that included a raid on al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed in May of 2011.

mark esper, donald trump
Defense Secretary Mark Esper (left) and President Donald Trump. Alex Wong/Getty; Chip Somodevilla/Getty

McChrystal served as the head of the Joint Special Operations Command from 2003 to 2008 and later led all international forces in Afghanistan.

Both men had been outspoken about the former president's attacks on the media and other critics.

"I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency," McRaven wrote in The Washington Post's opinion pages in 2018, after Trump revoked security clearance for former CIA director John Brennan.

That same year, McChrystal told ABC News that he believed the president was immoral and dishonest.

Milley convinced Trump to abandon the plan to go after the retired officers by promising to "personally call the officers and ask them to dial it back," according to Esper.

General Mark Milley
Gen. Mark Milley. Chip Somodevilla/Getty

A rep for Trump did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the details revealed in Esper's book.

The former Sec. of Defense also writes in the book that the episode demonstrated an aspect of the White House during Trump's presidency, when, he said, politics could override policy.

"People were removed from positions simply because the White House wanted to replace them with more hard-core Trump loyalists, regardless of qualifications," Esper writes.

Esper also reportedly wrote that the former president complained to him about the look of the U.S. Navy's ships, which he thought were "ugly" compared to "nicer, sleeker" Russian and Italian ships.

Trump fired Esper in Nov. 2020, following his presidential election loss and a dispute in 2020 between them over invoking the Insurrection Act, which would have allowed the former president to send the military into states in response to protests during the turmoil over the killing of George Floyd.

In a statement to 60 Minutes about Esper's interview on the show, Trump said the former secretary was fired because he was "incapable of leading." He added: "I had to run the military myself."

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