US President Donald Trump once told his advisers last week that he wanted to send 10,000 soldiers to the Washington DC region to stop the unrest over the police murder of a black man in Minneapolis, a senior US official said.
The report on Trump's demand during a heated conversation in the Oval Office on Monday shows how close the President could have come to his threat of deploying troops on active duty despite opposition from the Pentagon leadership.
During the meeting, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Mark Milley, and attorney general William Barr recommended opposing such an operation, the official said on condition of anonymity. The meeting was "controversial," added the official.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump has since been pleased with the National Guard's deployments, the Pentagon-recommended option, and a more traditional instrument for managing domestic crises. The Pentagon leaders tried to call the governors to send security guards to Washington. Additional federal law enforcement agencies have also been mobilized.
But the key to Trump also appears to have been Esper's attempt to prepare, but not deploy, soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division's active service and other units in the Washington, DC region if they were needed. These troops have now left.
"It was sufficient for the president at the time to have active forces available, but not in the city," said the official.
Trump's attempt to militarize the U.S. response to the protests has triggered a rare amount of conviction by former U.S. military officials, including Trump's first Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and retired four-star generals who usually try to stay out of politics.
These comments reflect deep discomfort inside and outside the Pentagon when Trump was ready to embroil the U.S. military in an internal racial crisis after killing 46-year-old George Floyd, who died on May 25 after a Minneapolis policeman knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
Floyd's death has sparked a wave of protests and national soul-searching over the country's legacy of violence and ill-treatment by African Americans and other minorities.
It has also prompted some colored Pentagon leaders to make unprecedented statements about their experience of racial problems in the U.S. military.
Esper publicly opposed the Insurrection Act's appeal to deploy active forces on Wednesday – comments to reporters that were not well received by Trump or his top aides.
The senior US official said Trump shouted at Esper after this press conference.
When speculation whirled about whether the president could fire him, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Trump "still has confidence in Secretary Esper."
"Secretary Esper has been instrumental in securing our nation's roads and ensuring that Americans have peace and confidence in the security of their offices, places of worship, and homes," McEnany said in a statement.
Esper issued a memo on Tuesday reminding Department of Defense personnel "that we are committed to protecting the American people's right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly".
Milley made a similar statement reminding troops of their oath to the U.S. Constitution, which protects the right to peaceful protests.
These statements from Milley and Esper came after vigorously criticizing the use of military planning terms such as "battlepace" to describe American protest sites during a conference call with governors that Trump hosted on Monday and the tapes of which had been leaked.
At the time, the Pentagon was concerned that Trump could deploy active troops if the governors did not keep the National Guard busy, the official said.
Esper and Milley were also criticized for accompanying Trump to a photo opportunity outside a church near the White House on Monday after the police cleared the area by firing smoke grenades and chemically irritating "pepper balls" and attacking peaceful demonstrators .
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)