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Esper: Stephen Miller called for a "quarter-million troops" to respond to migrant caravan

Trump Defense secretary on "ridiculous" border plan
Trump Defense secretary on "ridiculous" border plan 02:33

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper says he personally killed a "ridiculous" plan from White House adviser Stephen Miller to deploy 250,000 troops to the southern border as a migrant caravan approached. Esper, who writes about the moment in his upcoming book, "A Sacred Oath," says he initially thought Miller was joking when he asked for the troops while waiting in the Oval Office.

"We're in a meeting, waiting for the president to come out," Esper tells Norah O'Donnell for an interview airing this Sunday on "60 Minutes," "We're standing around the Resolute Desk. And he's behind me. And this voice just starts talking about caravans are coming. And, 'We need to get troops to the border.' And, 'We need a quarter-million troops.' And I think he's joking. And then I turn around and I look at him and these-- and these deadpan eyes. Clearly, he is not joking."

Mark Esper

Esper, who served as President Trump's second secretary of defense, says he told Miller the Department of Homeland Security could handle any caravans, as they had done in the past. 

"He repeats, 'No, we need a quarter-million troops,'" Esper says. "And I just turn squarely around to him, face him, and say, 'I don't have a quarter million troops to send on some ridiculous mission to the border.'"

But Esper says the plan that Miller had been pushing was already in motion.

"I told this story to General Milley and my chief of staff," Esper says. "I said, 'Let's be safe. Let's just check and make sure that this isn't being worked somewhere in the building.' And Milley comes back days later and the door opens up and he's waving a document that's in hand."

"And he says something like, 'secretary, you're not gonna believe this.' And that's when he explains to me that, yes, they were working. That we had developed a plan, initial concept of how this might happen," Esper tells O'Donnell. "And I was just flabbergasted that, not only was the idea proposed, but that people-- people in my department were working on it."

Esper still laughs at the idea.

"It's just so absurd," Esper says. "I can't even consider it. I mean, again, we don't have 250,000 troops to send to the border. And to do what? It's just ridiculous."

Miller declined to comment when reached by CBS News.

"Whatever happened to that plan to deploy a quarter million troops to the border with Mexico?" O'Donnell asks Esper.

"Well, it died," Esper says. "I gave General Milley specific instruction to tell NORTHCOM, Northern Command, to stop working on it, to cease and desist. And that if anybody had any questions, you tell them they should call me direct. I never got a phone call."

"It was dead and it died, as it should," Esper says.

O'Donnell's interview with Esper will air Sunday night on "60 Minutes."

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