Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Thursday expressed remorse for accompanying President Trump’s walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church with the President ahead of his surprise photo-op last week.
In pre-recorded remarks to a National Defense University commencement ceremony released on Thursday morning, Milley acknowledged the “national debate” that ensued following his appearance with Trump and other administration officials at Lafayette Park, the site where federal police forcibly removed peaceful protesters in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
“As senior leaders, everything you do will be closely watched. And I am not immune,” Milley said. “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.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley apologizing for being at Lafayette Square last week.
Civilian and military leaders of the military are rhetorically breaking in the most public way possible with their commander in chief, Pres Trump.pic.twitter.com/I7C8hICIWW
— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) June 11, 2020
Milley said that he “should not have been there” and that his presence “created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
“As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it,” Milley said.
Milley’s remarks mark his first direct response to the backlash that ensued after Trump’s surprise church photo-op, which featured the President awkwardly holding a Bible in front of the church while standing alongside several members of his administration. The photo-op was staged shortly after Trump demanded that governors “dominate protesters” by activating the National Guard to quell the violence that has broken out during recent protests.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper — who also accompanied the President on the walk over to the church and broke from the President’s threat to invoke the Insurrection Act — told reporters at the Pentagon last week that he was “not aware” of the photo-op prior to when it occurred and that he tried “to stay out of situations that may appear political, which he claimed he is “sometimes successful” at doing.