Trump’s Defense Sec. Pushes Back Against Claim Chinese Balloon Flew During Trump Admin

[Screenshot CNN]

Brianna Lyman News and Commentary Writer
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Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper pushed back Friday against the claim that a Chinese surveillance balloon flew over the United States during the Trump administration.

The Department of Defense (DoD) is tracking a suspected high-altitude Chinese surveillance balloon that appears to be collecting data on sensitive U.S. sites over Montana. The state is home to the Malmstrom Air Force Base, which houses Minuteman III nuclear missiles.

The DoD released a statement Thursday night claiming that “instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years.”

The DoD has not specified when these other instances occurred, but CNN’s Kaitlan Collins — who previously worked for the Daily Caller — alleged that one instance occurred during the Trump administration, prompting a shocked response from Esper.

“Yesterday we heard from the Pentagon and they say that this has happened before, during the last administration when you were defense secretary during that time period,” Collins said. “Were you aware of this? How was it resolved? What can you tell us about that?”

“I read that,” said Esper, who served as defense secretary from July 2019 through Nov. 2020. “I was surprised. I don’t ever recall somebody coming into my office or reading anything that the Chinese had a surveillance balloon above the United States.”

“You would, obviously, know that if that had happened when you were defense secretary?” Collins asked. (RELATED: ‘Is He Spaced Out?’: Jesse Watters Asks Why Trudeau ‘Didn’t Give’ A ‘Warning’ About Suspected Chinese Spy Balloon)

“I would remember that for sure,” Esper said. “My focus was on implementing the national defense strategy to take on the Chinese as the greatest strategic threat facing our country.”

“I was keen on everything Chinese,” he continued. “We set up a red cell within the Pentagon to deal with it, we reoriented the military’s doctrine and how we train and fight. All these things focused on the Chinese. I would be curious as to why Chinese surveillance balloons were flying over the United States. That would have caught my attention for sure. I don’t recall it ever happening.”

Esper said shooting down the balloon would send a “strong message” but that he would personally be interested in bringing it down rather than shooting it down so that officials can “capture the equipment and understand what they are doing.”

China has since claimed that the balloon is a weather balloon that blew off course.