Esper: Trump Wanted To Activate Retired Four-Stars To Court-Martial Them For Disloyalty

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper's new book recounts the episode.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks after being sworn in as President Donald Trump looks on in the Oval Office at the White House on July 23, 2019. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

President Donald Trump demanded that the military recall two retired four-star officers who criticized him so they could be court-martialed, a new book says.

According to a copy of ex-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s memoir, A Sacred Oath, obtained by TPM, Trump demanded that former Gen. Stan McChrystal and former Navy Admiral William H. McRaven be recalled into active duty so that they could be court-martialed for criticizing the President.

“So disloyal,” the book recounts Trump complaining to Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley.

The effort began in May 2020, the book says, after articles appeared in various right-wing news outlets claiming that McChrystal was advising the Democratic Party on ways to use artificial intelligence to damage Trump’s re-election effort. One Breitbart article from the time accused McChrystal of participating in an effort to “track down and counter Trump supporters on social media.”

“This spun the president up,” Esper wrote.

McChrystal was working as an adviser for Defeat Disinfo, a Democratic Party-aligned PAC that planned on using technology to counter false talking points about COVID-19.

“Everyone wishes the Pandora’s box was closed and none of this existed, but it does,” McChrystal told the Washington Post in May 2020, referring to the problem of disinformation.

McChrystal resigned from the military in 2010 following a Rolling Stone article in which he and his staff were quoted speaking disparagingly about senior White House officials, including then-Vice President Biden.

“Are you asking me about Vice President Biden? Who’s that?” the article quoted McChrystal as saying.

In the memoir, Esper recounts a May 2020 meeting between himself, Milley, and Trump, to address the then-President’s anger toward the two retired officers.

“The next thing I knew, Mark Milley and I were sitting in front of the president trying to talk him out of recalling McChrystal to active duty,” Esper wrote.

Trump also purportedly contemplated adding McRaven to the court-martial plan. McRaven was an outspoken critic of Trump during his administration, writing in an October 2019 op-ed in the New York Times that the U.S. was “under attack” by Trump.

“The president told Milley and me that he ‘want[ed] to call them [McChrystal and McRaven] back to active duty and court-martial them’ for what they said,” the book reads.

Esper wrote that he and Milley tried to dissuade Trump from going through with the plan, telling him that the plan would backfire.

But, per Esper, Trump only relented after Milley “promis[ed] that he would personally call the officers and ask them to dial it back.”

McChrystal, reached by email, told TPM that “there was no call I remember — and I would have remembered that.”

He also wrote that it was the first he had heard of the matter, and declined to comment further. McRaven could not be reached for comment.

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