But invoking the Insurgency Act, a rarely used authority allowing presidents to use the active-duty military for law enforcement purposes, would have been a dramatic escalation. The law has only been used twice in the past 40 years – once to quell unrest after Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and once during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
“We look weak,” Mr. Trump said, according to one of the officials. He complained that he was taken to the bunker under the White House on the night of May 29 when the barricade outside the Treasury Department was breached. The New York Times had reported the visit to the bunker a day earlier, infuriating Mr. Trump.
But the three officials rejected the idea of invoking the insurgency law. Mr Barr, who had been Mr Trump’s attorney general for a year and a half and had increasingly clashed with the president, told Mr Trump that civilian law enforcement had enough staff to deal with the situation and that a drastic measure such as invoking the insurgency law could lead to more protests and violence. Mr Esper agreed, according to the two former officials.
Mr Trump’s meeting with Mr Barr, Mr Esper and Mr Milley was marked by his rage at being embarrassed on the world stage, according to two of the officials.
Mr Trump reluctantly accepted their advice not to deploy active-duty troops, officials said. Immediately after the meeting, Mr. Trump joined a call with governors across the country, some of whom were seeing protests increase in their states. Mr Trump urged them to “dominate” the protesters, as he said the Minnesota National Guard had done.
Mr Esper told his associates he was so worried that Mr Trump would deploy troops on active duty that he echoed the need for them to take control of their states, hoping he could encourage them. governors to deploy the National Guard to prevent federal action. Using Pentagon terminology that he later told associates he regretted, Mr. Esper told governors to “dominate the battlespace,” a sentiment stemming from concern over Mr. Trump.
But one of the backdrops in drafting the insurgency law proclamation was that talks between the White House and city officials to contain the protests remained controversial throughout the day. At one point, White House officials suggested taking over the city’s police force to calm unrest and enforce order. The idea stunned Washington city officials.