“When I was Secretary of Defense I made it a priority to avoid any suggestion of support for partisan political actions, and I assured that the president did not use any military facilities to support his political ends,” Perry wrote. “But on Monday Secretary Esper walked with the president to St. John’s Church in an implicit show of support, after peaceful demonstrators in Lafayette Park had been forcibly subdued and dispersed with tear gas under the orders of Attorney General Barr.”
Esper has changed his account of his knowledge of the photo-op situation multiple times. In a Tuesday interview with NBC News, Esper said he knew he would be surveying damage to Lafayette Park with the president, but claimed not to know about the visit to the historic church. But in a Wednesday news conference, Esper said he was aware he would be heading to St. John’s Church, but said he did not know what would occur once he was there.
The Defense secretary diverged from Trump on Wednesday when he announced his opposition to deploying active-duty troops to respond to protests around the country.
But later that day, Esper reversed a decision to order troops away from Washington, D.C. And in another twist, the Defense secretary switched course again on Thursday and ordered hundreds of troops from the Airborne 82nd Division to return home from the capital.
Perry’s comments echo the sentiments of former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday.
Mattis wrote that Trump was dividing the nation and was threatening the Constitution. He argued that the current military leadership erred in accompanying Trump to the church, and that there was no reason to adopt a militarized response to the unrest sweeping the country following the death of George Floyd in police custody.
Perry also cited the Constitution when criticizing Trump, claiming the president demands that his officials are loyal to him above all else.
“But in the United States, those who serve in the government and the military swear an oath to support the Constitution, not any individual,” Perry wrote. “That is what makes our nation great.”
Perry expressed his sadness at the killing of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died on May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer pinned his knee on his neck for more than eight minutes.
“I am outraged at the disregard for life that is evidenced in the video we’ve all seen,” Perry wrote. “It is an ugly indictment of a legacy of racism that our nation continues to struggle to overcome.”