Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper sued the Pentagon on Sunday, claiming the agency has improperly blocked parts of his upcoming memoir chronicling what he calls the “tumultuous second half of the Trump administration.”
Esper filed suit in Federal District Court in Washington D.C., claiming the Department of Defense had “arbitrarily redacted” parts of the memoir during a routine prepublication review process for executive branch employees. The New York Times first reported details about the lawsuit, noting Esper is likely the most senior former government official to sue for prior restraint related to a book.
“The American people deserve a full and unvarnished accounting of our nation’s history, especially the more difficult periods,” Esper said in a statement via his attorney, Mark Zaid. “I am more than disappointed that the current Administration is infringing on my First Amendment constitutional rights. And it is with regret that legal recourse is the only path now available for me to tell my full story to the American people.”
Esper has asked the courts to allow him to publish what he believes is unclassified information in the book.
The memoir, titled “A Sacred Oath,” is due out in May. The lawsuit notes that Esper submitted his manuscript in May 2021 for review and worked closely with the Pentagon’s review office. The suit says he ultimately believed the process was taking an “unusual” amount of time for a former Defense Secretary before he was ultimately told details and paragraphs from about 60 pages of the book were redacted.
“Significant text is being improperly withheld from publication in Secretary Esper’s Manuscript under the guise of classification,” the suit says. “The withheld text is crucial to telling important stories discussed in the Manuscript.”
Esper went on to say that he was asked to delete quotes from Trump and others in meetings, as well as “views on the actions of other countries, on conversations I held with foreign officials and regarding international events that had been widely reported.”
The Pentagon’s spokesman, John Kirby, told the Times it was aware of Esper’s frustrations but said the agency took its role seriously to protect the nation’s interests.
“As with all such reviews, the department takes seriously its obligation to balance national security with an author’s narrative desire,” Kirby told the newspaper. “Given that this matter is now under litigation, we will refrain from commenting further.”
Esper is the latest Trump administration official to seek to chronicle his experiences in the former president’s cabinet. Former national security adviser John Bolton also drew scrutiny from the Justice Department over his attempt to publish details from his time working for the president. Bolton’s book was published regardless, and the government sued for the profits. The DOJ, under Attorney General Merrick Garland, dropped the case in June.
Trump fired Esper last November, shortly after he lost his reelection battle to Joe Biden and amid reports he had defied the then-president’s orders on several occasions.