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Esper says Americans deserve ‘unvarnished’ look at ‘tumultuous’ Trump administration as he sues Pentagon over book redactions

<i>Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images</i><br/>Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrives for a House Armed Services Committee hearing on July 9
Getty Images
Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images
Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrives for a House Armed Services Committee hearing on July 9

By Paul LeBlanc, CNN

Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Monday that the American people deserve an “unvarnished” look at former President Donald Trump’s “tumultuous” presidency after he filed a lawsuit against the Pentagon for not clearing his book manuscript for publication.

“My view is that the American people deserve a full and unvarnished history of the last presidency, the Trump administration,” Esper told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” in his first interview since suing the Defense Department. “And what I aimed to do was to provide important insights and anecdotes and color to what was arguably one of the most tumultuous second halves of an administration in history.”

Esper’s lawsuit against the Defense Department came after the agency told him that he needed to take out parts of the book about his time working under Trump. The dispute developed during the pre-publication review of his manuscript, a typical process government officials must go through to receive approval when writing about their service, so that state secrets and other protected information isn’t made public.

Beginning in October, a Defense Department staff member told Esper he needed to make redactions to his book, according to his lawsuit filed Sunday. But Esper said the requested redactions covered quotes from Trump and others, conversations he had with Trump, and his views related to foreign countries.

A HarperCollins imprint set a publication date of May 2022 for the book, titled “A Sacred Oath,” the lawsuit said.

Esper broke with Trump at various times as defense secretary, including over the then-President’s plans to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan, but the rift deepened in summer 2020 when Esper said he did not support using active-duty troops to quell the large-scale protests across the United States triggered by the police killing of George Floyd.

Trump ultimately fired Esper by tweet in early November 2020, days after losing the presidential election.

The former secretary of defense on Monday called the redactions “arbitrary and unfair,” telling Tapper he “submitted what (he) believed at the time and still believe is an unclassified manuscript.”

“So I don’t know what the reason is, but again it’s arbitrary. It’s capricious. And it just does injustice to this important part of America’s history that the people need to know about and need to understand in depth,” he said. “So that’s why I’m committed to getting to the end of this and making sure that we publish the manuscript in full so that the American people know the full story of what happened — the good and the bad — during those last couple of years of the Trump administration.”

This story has been updated with additional information Monday.

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CNN’s Michael Conte, Ellie Kaufman, Katelyn Polantz and Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.

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