Defense Secretary Mark Esper says he was given no notice before President Donald Trump led him and other senior administration officials to St. John's Episcopal Church for a widely criticized photo opportunity.
"I thought I was going to do two things: to see some damage and to talk to the troops," Esper said Tuesday night in an exclusive interview with NBC News.
Esper said he believed they were going to observe the vandalized bathroom in Lafayette Square, which is near the church.
"I didn't know where I was going," Esper said. "I wanted to see how much damage actually happened."
A Pentagon spokesman later told NBC News that Esper was aware the church was one of the locations where he would be viewing damage. The spokesman reiterated that Esper didn't know the president was going to use it as a photo opportunity.