A U-turn, an angry president and a fateful walk to a church

Full Screen
1 / 5

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this June 1, 2020, file photo President Donald Trump departs the White House to visit outside St. John's Church in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Mark Esper was three blocks from the FBI's Washington field office. He had planned to confer there at a security command center, but plans changed with an unexpected call to divert immediately.

Go the White House. President Donald Trump wanted a briefing from him and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on how the military was handling security as protests grew on the streets of the nation's capital.

Esper's driver pulled a U-turn in the middle of the street and flipped on the flashing lights, and they rushed to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

It was late afternoon on Monday, June 1 — one of the more consequential days of Donald Trump's presidency, when he was forced to reckon with rapidly swelling demonstrations after George Floyd's death in the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

This account of Trump's decision-making, based on a senior defense official as well as several others in the Trump administration, offers insight into how the president was pushing for the fastest, most extreme measures while advisers at the Pentagon tried to persuade him to take a more moderate approach.

The officials asked that their names not be used to describe sensitive deliberations.

At an Oval Office meeting late Monday morning, tempers were flaring. Trump and some of his senior aides wanted federal troops on the streets, and fast.

Some Washington businesses had been vandalized Sunday night and St. John’s Church, near the White House, had sustained fire damage. Trump was unhappy. Some governors, and local authorities in the District of Columbia, were not doing enough to stop violence, Trump believed.