Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Tuesday night distanced himself from President Donald Trump’s infamous photo-op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church on Monday.
Esper, who was part of Trump’s entourage at the photo-op, told NBC News that he had been under the impression that they were going to inspect a damaged bathroom nearby the church in Lafayette Square as a result of a protest against police brutality the night before.
“I thought I was going to do two things: to see some damage and to talk to the troops,” the Pentagon chief said, insisting that he “wanted to see how much damage actually happened.”
Esper claimed he “didn’t know where I was going” when he and other Trump officials left the White House with the President for the unannounced visit to the church, before which the federal police had teargassed peaceful protesters in the square and even clergy at the church to clear Trump’s path.
Upon arriving at the church after a short walk from the White House, Trump posed for photos in front of the building while holding up a Bible. At no point during the visit did he actually enter the church; the sole purpose of the photo-op was reportedly for Trump to project an image of toughness after hiding in a White House bunker from the protests on Friday.
Correction: This post originally said that Trump hid in the White House bunker all weekend. He was briefly in the bunker on Friday evening as protests raged outside the White House.