Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper says he personally killed a “ridiculous” plan by White House adviser Stephen Miller to deploy 250,000 troops to the southern border as a migrant caravan approached. Esper, who writes about the moment in his forthcoming book, “A Sacred Oath,” says he initially thought Miller was joking when he asked about the troops while waiting in the Oval Office.
“We’re in a meeting, waiting for the president to come out,” Esper tells Norah O’Donnell for an interview airing this Sunday on “60 Minutes,” “We’re standing around the Resolute Desk. And he’s right behind me. And this voice just starts talking about caravans coming and, ‘We need to get troops to the border.’ And, ‘We need a quarter of a million soldiers.’ And I think he’s kidding. And then I turn around and look at him and these… and these expressionless eyes. Clearly, he’s not kidding.”
Esper, who served as President Trump’s second secretary of defense, says he told Miller that the Department of Homeland Security could handle any motorcade, as it had in the past.
“Repeat: ‘No, we need a quarter of a million soldiers,'” says Esper. “And I just turn right back at him and look at him and say, ‘I don’t have a quarter of a million troops to send on some ridiculous mission to the border.'”
But Esper says the plan Miller had been pushing was already underway.
“I told this story to General Milley and my chief of staff,” says Esper. “I said, ‘Let’s take care of ourselves. Let’s just check and make sure this isn’t working somewhere in the building.’ And Milley comes back days later and the door opens and he’s waving a document that he’s holding in his hand.”
“And he’s like, ‘Secretary, you’re not going to believe this.’ And that’s when he explains to me that yes, they were working. That we had developed a plan, an initial concept of how this could happen,” Esper tells O’Donnell. “And I was shocked because not only was the idea proposed, but people, people in my department were working on it.”
Esper still laughs at the idea.
“It’s so absurd,” says Esper. “I can’t even consider it. I mean, again, we don’t have 250,000 troops to send to the border. And to do what? It’s just ridiculous.”
Miller declined to comment when contacted by CBS News.
“What happened to that plan to deploy a quarter of a million troops to the border with Mexico?” O’Donnell questions Esper.
“Well, he died,” says Esper. “I gave General Milley specific instructions to tell NORTHCOM, Northern Command, to stop working on it, to cease and desist. And if anyone had any questions, to tell them to call me directly. I never received a phone call.” “.
“He was dead and he died, as he should,” says Esper.
O’Donnell’s interview with Esper will air Sunday night on “60 Minutes.”