Mark Esper Sues U.S. for Release of Material to Use in Memoir About Time in Trump Cabinet

Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is suing the Defense Department for the release of material that he claims he is being improperly blocked from using in a memoir about his time in former President Donald Trump's cabinet, the Associated Press reported. The "unvarnished and candid memoir" covers his time as Army secretary from 2017 to 2019 and his 18 months as Secretary of Defense before Trump announced his firing in a tweet days after the 2020 presidential election, according to the lawsuit.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington on Sunday, cites Esper's secrecy agreements that could force him to face civil or criminal liability if he authorizes the publication of A Sacred Oath without the Pentagon's approval, the AP reported. The filing claims that "significant text" of the memoir is being held for classification purposes despite Esper's assertion no classified information is revealed in the book.

The lawsuit describes Esper's tenure as Defense Secretary as "an unprecedented time of civil unrest, public health crises, growing threats abroad, Pentagon transformation, and a White House seemingly bent on circumventing the Constitution." Esper and Trump were in conflict over using the military to push back against the nationwide protests and unrest that arose from the June 2020 killing of George Floyd in police custody.

Though Esper said that he was trying to keep the Defense Department nonpolitical, this and other issues led Trump to question his loyalty, according to the AP. In a two-part tweet on Nov. 9 that largely focused on announcing that Christopher C. Miller would replace him as acting defense secretary, Trump wrote that "Mark Esper has been terminated" and "I would like to thank him for his service."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Mark Esper Lawsuit
In a lawsuit filed against the Defense Department former Defense Secretary Mark Esper claims that material is being improperly withheld from his use as he seeks to publish an “unvarnished and candid memoir" of his time in President Donald Trump's Cabinet. Esper speaks before a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, at the Pentagon in Washington on Sept. 22, 2020. Alex Brandon/AP Photo

The lawsuit quotes from a letter Esper sent to Defense Secretary 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 subjects and says some 60 pages of the manuscript contained redactions at one point. Agreeing to all of those redactions would result in "a serious injustice to important moments in history that the American people need to know and understand," Esper wrote.

The suit itself said some stories Esper related in the manuscript under consideration 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 narrative desire. Given that this matter is now under litigation, we will refrain from commenting further," he said in a statement.

Esper, 57, a West Point graduate and Gulf War veteran, said in a statement that he had waited for six months for the review process to play out but found "my unclassified manuscript arbitrarily redacted without clearly being told why."

"I am more than disappointed the current Administration is infringing on my First Amendment constitutional rights. And it is with regret that legal recourse is the only path now available for me to tell my full story to the American people," he said.

Trump Cabinet Memoir
Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is suing the Defense Department for the release of material that he claims the unit is improperly barring him from using in a memoir about his time in former President Donald Trump's cabinet. Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on October 9, 2021 in Des Moines, Iowa. Scott Olson/Getty Images