A former secretary of defense filed a lawsuit over the weekend alleging that the Pentagon is unlawfully blocking material from his pending memoir.
Mark Esper, who headed the Department of Defense for about 18 months during the Trump administration, says that the Pentagon is trying to censor unclassified information. He submitted a manuscript to the agency about six months ago. After multiple rounds of review by the department, he received back 60 pages on Oct. 7 with at least two words struck from them.
The adjustments included removing quotations from former President Donald Trump, who ousted Esper, according to the former official.
Esper tried engaging with the Pentagon for roughly a month to understand why the redactions were made, but ultimately he wasn’t satisfied and is turning to the courts.
“No written explanation was offered to justify the deletions,” Esper told Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a Nov. 8 letter, adding that a Pentagon official was “unable to assert that the redacted items contain classified information or compromise national security.”
“Significant text is being improperly withheld from publication in Secretary Esper’s manuscript under the guise of classification. The withheld text is crucial to telling important stories discussed in the manuscript,” Mark Zaid, Esper’s attorney, wrote in the suit, which was filed in federal court in Washington on Nov. 28.
The court was asked to permanently block the Pentagon from restraining the publication of any unclassified information in the manuscript and to declare that the Pentagon violated the Administrative Procedure Act.
“I am more than disappointed 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 said in a statement to media outlets.
The book is scheduled to be published by William Morrow in May 2022. Formerly titled “Last Line of Defense,” it’s now set to be released as “A Sacred Oath.”
Esper was nominated by Trump after serving as secretary of the Army from November 2017 to mid-2019. Before that, the West Point graduate and Gulf War combat veteran worked for The Heritage Foundation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Raytheon Company.
The Pentagon said in a statement that the prepublication review process is aimed at protecting national security.
“As with all such reviews, the department takes seriously its obligation to balance national security with an author’s narrative desire,” John Kirby, the Pentagon’s spokesman, told media outlets.
“Given that this matter is now under litigation, we will refrain from commenting further.”