Gen. Mark Milley, the country’s top military official, said on Thursday it “was a mistake” that he participated in President Donald Trump’s photo-op with a Bible outside St. John’s Church, which happened after tear gas was deployed on peaceful protesters to clear a path for the president.
Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a pre-recorded statement, “As senior leaders, everything you do will be closely watched and I am not immune. As many of you saw the result of the photograph of me at Lafayette Square last week that sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society. I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
He went on, “As a commissioned, uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it.”
On June 1, Trump threatened to deploy the U.S. military to extinguish protests around the country if cities or states did not do what’s “necessary to defend the life and property of their residents.” After the proclamation, the president walked away from reporters without taking any questions. He then walked to St. John’s Church and held a Bible after law enforcement officials fired tear gas and rubber bullets into a crowd of peaceful protesters to clear a path.
Reactions to Milley’s statement were varied. Democratic Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy mused on Twitter, “What is he talking about it? There wasn’t a ‘perception’ that the military was involved in domestic politics. The military was knee deep. National Guard troops were everywhere. Recon planes were flying overhead. Milley was marching through the streets overseeing it all.”
Former director of the Office of Government Ethics Walter Shaub had a different reaction: “I was angry when Milley walked with Trump. I’m impressed by his apology. I was on the front line dealing with this White House. My immediate supervisor was Trump. I hope I did the right thing, but for those who’ve never been in those shoes, let me tell you: it’s not always clear.”
Watch Gen. Mark Milley, the country’s top military official, apologize for his role in President Trump’s walk across Lafayette Square for a photo op after authorities used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear the area of peaceful protesters.
— The New York Times (@nytimes) June 11, 2020