Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper accused the Pentagon of restricting him from using unclassified materials for a tell-all book about his turbulent experience in President Donald Trump’s cabinet.
Esper made the claims in a lawsuit filed in federal court Sunday, as he sought to publish his memoir “A Sacred Oath.” The suit alleges that the Defense Department withheld “significant” text from the book under the guise of classification.
The former Army secretary — who Trump fired by tweet two days after the 2020 election — wrote that his 18-month tenure as Pentagon chief was “an unprecedented time of civil unrest, public health crises, growing threats abroad, Pentagon transformation, and a White House seemingly bent on circumventing the Constitution.”
Esper claimed that defense officials redacted 60 pages of his book and asked him not to quote Trump and others in meetings or describe their conversations. He also alleged that officials told him not to use certain nouns and verbs while writing about historical events in the book.
The 57-year-old, who needs Pentagon approval to override his secrecy agreements, wrote that agreeing to the redactions would be “a serious injustice to important moments in history that the American people need to know and understand.”
Esper and Trump clashed over using the military to corral protestors and rioters after the police murder of George Floyd last June. The Republican accused him of not being sufficiently loyal while Esper claimed he was trying to keep his department politically neutral. His unprecedented firing during Trump’s lame duck tenure allowed the ex-prez to put loyalists in the Pentagon as he railed against the election results.
Esper said he reluctantly took legal action against his former department because its many redactions remained unexplained after he waited six months for a review process.
“I am more than disappointed the current Administration is infringing on my First Amendment constitutional rights. 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,” he said.
The Defense Department said it was reviewing the West Point graduate and Gulf War veteran’s lawsuit.
“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,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
Esper’s “unvarnished and candid” memoir was scheduled to hit book shelves in May.
With AP wires