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Mark Esper on what's at stake if Donald Trump is re-elected president

Esper on prospect of a second term for Trump
Mark Esper on the prospect of a second term for President Trump 01:12

Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was confirmed by the United States Senate by an overwhelmingly bipartisan 90-8 vote in July 2019. He entered the Pentagon as President Donald Trump's second secretary of defense. Esper told 60 Minutes he came to view President Trump as a threat to American democracy.

60 Minutes correspondent Norah O'Donnell interviewed Esper for Sunday's broadcast ahead of the publication of his memoir, "A Sacred Oath."

It's important to our country, it's important to the republic, the American people, that they understand what was going on in this very consequential period… The last year of the Trump administration." Esper said to explain why wrote the book. "And to tell the story about things we prevented. Really bad things. Dangerous things that could have taken the country in a dark direction."

In newly released exchanges, Esper described to O'Donnell the turbulence of working in the Trump administration including what he described as a May 9, 2020, presidential berating of U.S. military leaders and the decision Mr. Trump made a month later to order the withdraw of 10,000 U.S. troops from Germany. 

When asked for comment, Mr. Trump sent 60 Minutes' O'Donnell a written letter attacking Esper and disputing some of the claims he had made.

Mark Esper explains his actions after President Trump withdrew troops from Germany 01:26

In June 2020, Mr. Trump ordered then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper, to withdraw 10,000 U.S. troops from Germany. The former president said it was because Germany was not paying enough to NATO.

"They're delinquent billions of dollars, and this is for years," the president said in June 2020.

Esper told 60 Minutes he "wrestled" with how to handle Trump's order and ultimately devised a plan to relocate troops in an effort to reassure the U.S.'s NATO allies.

"We came up with a plan that ended up putting more U.S. forces in Europe to strengthen NATO, more U.S. forces in more NATO countries to reassure them, and more forces closer to Russia to deter them," Esper told 60 Minutes. "And I thought it was a clever way by which we were able to accomplish strategic objectives, notwithstanding the origin of the president's desire to pull troops out of Germany."

One of the Joint Chiefs of Staff researched 25th Amendment after 2020 meeting with Trump 02:10

In Esper's new book, the former defense secretary described a May 9, 2020, meeting between President Trump and U.S. military leaders that became so tense Esper said that one of the four-star officers present told him later that he researched the 25th Amendment.

Esper said the meeting took place in the Cabinet Room and the topic was meant to focus on China.

"[Mr. Trump] does a curt greeting to everybody and within a few minutes he is on a tirade, yelling about this issue or that issue," Esper told 60 Minutes. "'The allies are ripping us off. NATO's terrible. The U.S. military's a third-rate military. We can't beat Afghanistan. How are you going be able to deal with the Chinese?'… And this goes on for about 20 minutes, berating everybody in the room."

Section 4 of the 25th Amendment gives the cabinet the power to declare the President unfit to hold office through a series of formal actions involving Congress. This amendment does not directly involve the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Esper said he did not think Mr. Trump's behavior warranted use of the 25th Amendment.

Watch Norah O'Donnell's interview with former Defense Secretary Mark Esper below.

Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper: The 60 Minutes Interview 13:13

The videos above were produced by Keith Zubrow and edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger.

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