But invoking the Insurrection Act, a rarely used authority allowing presidents to use active-duty military for the purposes of law enforcement, would have been a sharp escalation. The act has only been invoked twice in the past 40 years — to quell unrest after Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and during the Los Angeles riots in 1992.
“We look weak,” Mr. Trump said, according to one of the officials. He complained about having been taken to the bunker below the White House on the night of May 29 when the barricade outside the Treasury Department was pierced. The New York Times had reported the bunker visit a day earlier, infuriating Mr. Trump.
But all three officials pushed back against the idea of invoking the Insurrection Act. Mr. Barr, who had been Mr. Trump’s attorney general for a year and a half and had been increasingly clashing with the president, told Mr. Trump that civilian law-enforcement authorities had enough personnel to manage the situation and that a drastic move like invoking the Insurrection Act could spawn 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 grudgingly went along with their counsel not to deploy active-duty troops, according to the officials. Immediately after the meeting, Mr. Trump joined a call with governors around the country, some of whom were seeing protests increase in their states. Mr. Trump urged them to “dominate” the protesters, as he said the National Guard in Minnesota had.
Mr. Esper told associates that he was so concerned that Mr. Trump would deploy active-duty troops that he echoed the need for them to get control of their states, hoping he could encourage governors to deploy the National Guard to head off federal action. Using Pentagon terminology that he later told associates he regretted, Mr. Esper told the governors to “dominate the battle space,” a sentiment stemming from concern about Mr. Trump’s intentions.
But one backdrop for the drafting of the Insurrection Act proclamation was that discussions between the White House and city officials about containing the protests remained contentious throughout the day. At one point, White House officials suggested taking over the city police force to tamp down the unrest and impose order. That idea stunned Washington city officials.