But invoking the Insurrection Act, an underutilized authority that allows presidents to use active military personnel for law enforcement purposes, would have escalated dramatically. The act has only been alleged twice in the past 40 years – once to quell the unrest following Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and once during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
“We look weak,” said Trump, according to one of the officials. He complained about being taken to the bunker below the White House on the night of May 29 when the barricade outside the Treasury Department was broken. The New York Times had reported the bunker visit the day before, which made Trump angry.
But all three officers resisted the idea of invoking the Insurrection Act. Mr Barr, who was Mr Trump’s attorney general for a year and a half and increasingly clashing with the president, told Mr Trump that civil law enforcement had enough manpower to handle the situation and that a drastic move like invoking the insurrection Act could lead to more protests and violence. Mr. Esper agreed with the two former officers.
Mr Trump’s meeting with Mr Barr, Mr Esper and Mr Milley was marked by his anger over the embarrassment on the world stage, according to two officials.
Reluctantly, Trump agreed to her advice not to use troops on active duty, officials said. Immediately after the meeting, Mr. Trump joined a call with governors across the country, some of whom saw protests surge in their states. Mr Trump urged them to “dominate” the protesters as he said the Minnesota National Guard did.
Mr Esper told his staff that he was so concerned about Mr Trump sending troops on active duty that he repeated the need to take control of their states in the hopes that he could encourage governors to deploy the National Guard to fend off federal measures. Using the Pentagon terminology he later shared with his staff that he regretted, Mr. Esper told governors “to dominate the battlefield,” a sentiment stemming from concerns about Mr. Trump’s intentions.
One background to the drafting of the Insurrection Act proclamation, however, was that discussions between the White House and city officials about how to contain the protests remained contentious throughout the day. At some point, White House officials suggested taking over the city’s police force to help contain the riot and restore order. The idea baffled Washington city officials.