ALL NEWS

Top general apologizes for appearing with Trump during church walk

Jun 11, 2020, 8:02 AM | Updated: 8:47 am
FILE - In this June 1, 2020 file photo, President Donald Trump departs the White House to visit out...
FILE - In this June 1, 2020 file photo, President Donald Trump departs the White House to visit outside St. John's Church, in Washington. Part of the church was set on fire during protests on Sunday night. Walking behind Trump from left are, Attorney General William Barr, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Milley says his presence “created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.” He called it “a mistake” that he has learned from. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Army Gen. Mark Milley, the nation’s top military officer, said Thursday he was wrong to have accompanied President Donald Trump on a walk to a church through Lafayette Square, where he was photographed in his combat uniform with the presidential entourage.

“My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics,” Milley said. “As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it.”

 

The statement by the Joint Chiefs chairman risked the wrath of a president sensitive to anything hinting of criticism of events he has staged. Trump’s June 1 walk through the park to pose with a Bible at a church came after authorities used pepper spray and flash bangs to clear the park and streets of largely peaceful protesters.

Milley said his presence and the photographs compromised his commitment to a military divorced from politics.

“I should not have been there,” Milley said in remarks to a National Defense University commencement ceremony.

Milley’s public expression of regret comes as Pentagon leaders’ relations with the White House are still tense after a disagreement last week over Trump’s threat to use federal troops to quell civil unrest triggered by the death of George Floyd.

After protesters were cleared from the Lafayette Square area, Trump led an entourage that included Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper to St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he held up a Bible for photographers and then returned to the White House.

“My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics,” Milley said. “As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it.”

Esper had not said publicly that he erred by being with Trump at that moment. He told a news conference last week that when they left the White House he thought they were going to inspect damage in the Square and at the church and to mingle with National Guard troops in the area.

Milley’s comments at the National Defense University were his first public statements about the Lafayette Square event on June 1, which the White House has hailed as a “leadership moment” for Trump akin to Winston Churchill inspecting damage from German bombs in London during World War II.

The public uproar following Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police has created multiple layers of extraordinary tension between Trump and senior Pentagon officials. When Esper told reporters on June 3 that he had opposed Trump bringing active-duty troops on the streets of the nation’s capital to confront protesters and potential looters, Trump castigated him in a face-to-face meeting.

Just this week, Esper and Milley let it be known through their spokesmen that they were open to a “bipartisan discussion” of whether the 10 Army bases named for Confederate Army officers should be renamed as a gesture aiming to disassociating the military from the racist legacy of the Civil War. On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that he would never allow the names to be changed, catching some in the Pentagon by surprise.

The Marine Corps last week moved ahead with a ban on public displays of the Confederate Army battle flag on its bases, and the Navy this week said plans a similar ban applied to its bases, ships and planes. Trump has not commented publicly on those moves, which do not require White House or congressional approval.

Milley used his commencement address, which was pre-recorded and presented as a video message in line with social distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic, to raise the matter of his presence with Trump in Lafayette Square. He introduced the subject to his audience of military officers and civilian officials in the context of advice from an Army officer and combat veteran who has spent 40 years in uniform.

He said all senior military leaders must be aware that their words and actions will be closely watched.

“And I am not immune,” he said, noting the photograph of him at Lafayette Square. “That sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society.” He expressed regret at having been there and said the lesson to be taken from that moment is that all in uniform are not just soldiers but also citizens.

“We must hold dear the principle of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the very essence of our republic,” he said. “It takes time and work and effort, but it may be the most important thing each and every of us does every single day.”

Milley also expressed his outrage at the Floyd killing and urged military officers to recognize as a reflection of centuries of injustice toward African Americans.

“What we are seeing is the long shadow of our original sin in Jamestown 401 years ago,” he said, referring to the year in which the first enslaved Africans arrived on the shores of colonial Virginia.

Milley said the military has made important progress on race issues but has much yet to do, including creating the conditions for a larger proportion of African American officers to rise to the military’s senior ranks. He noted that his service, the Army, has just one African American four-star general, and mentioned that the Air Force is about to swear in the first-ever African American service chief.

Today’s Top Stories

All News

USU Eastern Student Wins Bronze Medal in Welding Competition...
Aubri Wuthrich

USU Eastern student takes 3rd in global welding competition

The USU Eastern welding student scored seven points behind the gold medal winner and took the Best of Nation Award.
10 hours ago
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 game day snacks for the whole family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
10 hours ago
File photo: Soldiers from the Utah National Guard prepare to depart Roland R. Wright Air National G...
Amie Schaeffer

Utah Air National Guard Airman dies during routine deployment

An airman from the Utah National Guard passed away from undisclosed medical issues while deployed in Guam on Nov. 29.
10 hours ago
After nine months of rehab in Kanab, Utah, a formerly injured Golden Eagle has been released back i...
Curt Gresseth

Golden eagle saved from death and rehabilitated in Utah flies home

An injured golden eagle spent months rehabilitating in Kanab, Utah after an injury. It was released home in November.
10 hours ago
The world's largest active volcano is shooting fountains of lava more than 100 feet high and sendin...
Holly Yan and Aya Elamroussi, CNN

Lava is spilling toward a key Hawaiian highway, but the governor says it’s safe to visit the Big Island

The world's largest active volcano is shooting fountains of lava more than 100 feet high and sending a river of molten rock down toward the main highway of Hawaii's Big Island.
10 hours ago
Gov. Cox mental health...
Mark Jackson

Utah’s Coordinated Action Plan for Water released this week

Utah’s Coordinated Action Plan for Water was released Wednesday by Gov. Spencer Cox and state agencies.
10 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 game day snacks for the whole family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...
Sorenson

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
Top general apologizes for appearing with Trump during church walk