Trump's Ex-DOD Chief Sues Pentagon Over Memoir

Mark Esper says Defense Department is blocking parts of his manuscript it thought were 'too candid'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 29, 2021 7:32 AM CST
Trump's Ex-DOD Chief Sues Pentagon Over Memoir
In this Sept. 22, 2020, file photo, then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speaks at the Pentagon in Washington.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

(Newser) – Mark Esper's memoir, A Sacred Oath, is due out in May from William Morrow, but readers may not see everything he originally included in its pages, thanks to the Pentagon. The former defense secretary in the Trump administration is now suing the agency he once led, claiming that sections of his manuscript were "arbitrarily" redacted by the DOD when he submitted them for review. "Significant text is being improperly withheld from publication ... under the guise of classification," reads Esper's complaint filed in federal court in DC, per Reuters. "The withheld text is crucial to telling important stories discussed in the manuscript."

Esper—who headed up the Pentagon from July 2019 to November 2020, when Trump fired him by tweet shortly after losing the presidential election, per the Guardian—says in a statement to the New York Times that his book offers "a full and unvarnished accounting of our nation's history, especially the more difficult periods" he witnessed during the second half of Trump's term in the White House. Esper had clashed with Trump on various issues, including the latter's threat to call up the military to quash protests in the wake of George Floyd's murder.

The Times notes that former officials from the executive branch are required to submit manuscripts for any books they may be writing to the government for review, for national security reasons. If parts of the manuscript raise red flags, they can be edited or taken out completely, though the process isn't supposed to be used simply to keep politically eyebrow-raising tales out of the public sphere. Esper is apparently the most senior ex-government bigwig to sue on such grounds.

Esper claims that the Biden administration is now overstepping its bounds on his First Amendment rights because he was "too candid," though he insists that candor wasn't classified or a risk to national security. He says he emailed the current secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, about his concerns earlier this month but never heard back. "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 says in his statement. The Defense Department is staying relatively mum, with a spokesman simply noting, "As with all such reviews, the department takes seriously its obligation to balance national security with an author's narrative desire." (Read more Mark Esper stories.)

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