Politics

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper also has government-provided

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper revealed to CBS News that he has had full-time government-provided “protection 24/7” since he left the Defense Department as a result of threats from Iran.  

“I do have protection 24/7 — both here in Virginia — and when I travel, it’s part of the job,” Esper told CBS News’ senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge in an interview Thursday.

This disclosure came a day after the Justice Department charged an Iranian national for plotting the murder of former national security adviser John Bolton, who was given Secret Service protection beginning in late 2021. In an interview with Herridge, Bolton said he was told that it was a plot potentially “either to assassinate me or to kidnap me.”

Esper’s security while he was defense secretary was provided by the Defense Department — most federal departments provide security to the cabinet secretaries that lead them, with a couple of exceptions, and that protection generally ends after the secretary leaves the government. Esper says he has had government protection “for nearly two years,” since he left the department.

“I give the FBI and the Department of Justice a lot of credit for what they’ve done,” Esper said of its charges against an Iranian national, and he acknowledged national security adviser Jake Sullivan for his warning “about severe consequences if Iran should do something.” 

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“Look, if they were to assassinate an American or let alone, an American official — to me, that’s an act of war,” Esper said. The former defense secretary urged the Biden administration to take a hard line with Iran in its efforts to revive the stalled nuclear talks. 

“We should signal very clearly how serious this is and before we sign any deal with them certainly make sure that they they reverse whatever actions [they] are taking and renounce them publicly.”

Esper said that he believes the threat against him at least in part is retaliatory, an attempt to exact revenge after the U.S. assassinated Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds military force and one of the most powerful figures in the Islamic Republic in January 2020, in Baghdad. The strike drew a vow of “crushing revenge” from Iran.  

“It’s serious and credible, and I think that is one of the reasons why,” Esper said of the threat against him.

In addition to Esper and Bolton, the U.S. government is providing security to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Deputy Secretary of State Brian Hook, also as a result of threats by Iran. 

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