President Donald Trump came close to firing Secretary of Defense Mark Esper last week following a dispute over Trump's threat to use active-duty troops to stop large scale protests across the United States, several officials have said.
The officials told the Wall Street Journal that allies and advisers on Capitol Hill talked Trump out of the move after he asked their opinion about the disagreement.
Esper, was said to have made his own preparations to resign -- including preparing a resignation letter -- but was convinced by aides not to go ahead with it.
The revelations underpin the shaky ground Esper has found himself on since publicly declaring that active-duty troops should be used in a law enforcement role only as a last resort.
Speaking from the Pentagon briefing room podium, Esper noted that "we are not in one of those situations now," distancing himself from Trump's threat to deploy the military to enforce order. He went on:
"The option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act," he told reporters, referring to an 1807 law that allows a president to deploy the US military to suppress civil disorder.
CNN later reported that Esper's comments did not go down well at the White House, where his standing was already viewed as tenuous, according to several people familiar with the behind the scenes politics.
In a briefing last week, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany would not directly answer whether Trump still had confidence in Esper, saying instead, "As of right now, Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper."
"With regard to whether the President has confidence, I would say if he loses confidence in Secretary Esper, I'm sure you all will be the first to know," McEnany added during the press briefing.
Defense officials said there was deep and growing discomfort among some in the Pentagon even before Trump announced that he was ready to deploy active-duty forces if local leaders failed to ramp up enforcement efforts.
As tear gas wafted through the air in Lafayette Square across from the White House, Trump announced from the Rose Garden that if state or city leaders refused "to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents," he would invoke the Insurrection Act.
The threat prompted an unprecedented revolt from the elite corps of ex-military leaders, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, who said in a statement that Trump "is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people -- does not even pretend to try."
"Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership."
Original story: CNN