Former United States Secretary of Defense Mark Esper claims in a lawsuit against the Department of Defense that material is being unfairly withheld from him as he seeks to publish an “unvarnished and honest memoir” about his time in Donald Trump’s cabinet.
The trial, which took place Sunday in the U.S. District Court in Washington, describes the memoir, A Sacred Oath, as an account of Esper’s tenure as Army Secretary from 2017 to 2019 and his 18 months as Secretary of Defense, which ended when Trump fired him in a tweet a few days after the president lost his re-election.
The period when Esper was Pentagon chief was “an unprecedented time of civil unrest, public health crises, growing threats abroad, Pentagon transformation and a White House that was apparently set to circumvent the Constitution,” the lawsuit said.
Esper and Trump strongly disagreed on the use of the military during civil unrest in June 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. Other questions led the president to believe that Esper was not loyal enough, while Esper felt he was trying to keep the department apolitical. Firing a Secretary of Defense after an election loss was unprecedented, but the opening allowed Trump to install loyalists in top positions in the Pentagon while continuing to contest his election loss.
The lawsuit alleges that “significant text” in the memoir, scheduled for publication by William Morrow in May, is being unfairly kept under cover of classification, and that Esper maintains that it does not contain any classified information. The subpoena notes that Esper is restricted by its confidentiality agreements from allowing publication without Pentagon approval, or faces possible civil and criminal liability.
The trial quotes from a letter Esper sent to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin criticizing the review process. He wrote that he had been asked not to quote Trump and others in meetings, not to describe conversations he had with Trump, and not to use certain verbs or nouns when describing historical events.
The letter describes other problematic topics and says that about 60 pages of the manuscript at one time contained editorials. Accepting all these edits would result in “a serious injustice to important moments in history that the American people need to know and understand,” Esper wrote.
The case itself says that some accounts Esper tells in the manuscript examined appeared to have been leaked to some mainstream media “possibly to undermine the impact” it would have had in his book.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the department was aware of Esper’s concerns. “As with all such reviews, the department takes seriously its obligation to balance national security with an author’s desire to narrate. As this case is now under trial, we will refrain from commenting further,” he said in a statement.
Esper, 57, a West Point and Gulf War veteran graduate, said in a statement that he had waited six months for the review process to unfold, but found “my unclassified manuscript was arbitrarily edited without being clearly told why”.
“I am more than disappointed that the current administration is violating my first amendment of constitutional rights. And it is with regret that legal means are the only way I now have at my disposal to tell my whole story to the American people, ” he said.