Mark Esper

Then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper testified before the US House Armed Services Committee hearing on ‘Department of Defense Authorities and Roles Related to Civilian Law Enforcement.’

Former Trump administration Secretary of Defense Mark Esper plans to meet with a Pentagon representative on Friday in the hopes of lifting heavy redactions to his soon-to-be-released memoir, which sparked a federal lawsuit, his lawyer said in court.

“We have some strict timelines on us,” prominent national security lawyer Mark Zaid said during a conference on Thursday. “We’re going to deal with them.”

Set for publication in May 2022, Esper’s lawsuit describes his memoir “A Sacred Oath” as an “unvarnished and candid memoir” about his tenure leading the Pentagon during a time of civil unrest, public health crises, growing threats abroad, and a “White House seemingly bent on circumventing the Constitution.” Its publisher William Morrow is an imprint of HarperCollins.

Esper claims that the Department of Defense unlawfully imposed prior restraint on his book through excessive redactions on matters of public record.

“For example, some requested redactions asked me to not quote former President Trump and others in meetings, to not describe conversations between the former president and me, and to not use certain verbs or nouns when describing historical events,” Esper wrote to his successor Lloyd Austin in a letter on Nov. 8, 2021. “I was also asked to delete my views on the actions of other countries, on conversations I held with foreign officials, and regarding international events that have been widely reported. Many items were already in the public domain; some were even published by DOD.”

The memoir also reportedly describes Esper’s reaction to Donald Trump’s threats to use the military to suppress street protests after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis.

Filed on Nov. 28, 2021, the lawsuit landing in federal court deep into President Joe Biden’s term has not meant Esper has had an easy road. Justice Department attorney Johnny Walker opposed Esper’s bid for an expedited hearing in December, arguing that the parties should have an opportunity to resolve the controversy outside of court.

“To be clear, the Government recognizes the importance of Plaintiff’s speech rights and does not intend to inject any needless delay into these proceedings,” Walker wrote in an opposition brief. “It is imperative, however, that any schedule both allow for a prompt resolution while also facilitating other important judicial and governmental interests. For one thing, the parties should have th e opportunity to further discuss the substance of Plaintiff’s dispute and attempt to resolve some or all aspects of that dispute out of court.”

Responding to that filing, Zaid emphasized that time is of the essence.

“For Secretary Esper’s book to be ‘published’ on May 22, 2022, i.e., available for purchase by the public, there are required steps that need to be taken months in advance,” Zaid noted in his reply brief. “If one of those steps are missed, it could cause the book to be delayed by months. The timely protection of Secretary Esper’s First Amendment rights is, therefore, crucial.”

The hearing last 15 minutes, with each of the parties expressing optimism about resolving all matters “expeditiously.”

Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan, a Ronald Reagan appointee, set a follow-up hearing in person for Thursday, Jan. 13 at 10 a.m.

(Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

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