Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Gen. Mark Milley was reportedly disgusted when then-President Trump roped him and other senior officials into a surprise church photo-op amid protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death last year.
According to Insider, which obtained an early copy of Washington Post reporters Bon Woodward and Robert Costa’s new book “Peril, Milley said he was “fucking done with this shit” when Trump paid a surprise visit to St. John’s Episcopal Church — a historic church near the White House that was vandalized during protests the night before — and brought other senior officials with him for the controversial photo-op.
In his first formal address regarding mounting protests nationwide in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Trump said that he has “strongly recommended” that every governor deploy the National Guard to “dominate the streets.” Trump’s remarks in the Rose Garden were issued as federal police used tear gas and flash bangs to disperse a seemingly peaceful crowd outside the White House.
Milley, then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper, then-Attorney General William Barr, and several others were reportedly summoned to the White House on June 1, 2020 and told to “line up” shortly after Trump delivered his speech at the Rose Garden.
Following his speech, Trump proceeded to lead the group of senior officials in walking across Lafayette Square and standing in front of the church for a photo-op. Trump was photographed awkwardly waving around a Bible.
Esper reportedly suddenly felt “sick” upon realizing that he was being dragged into Trump’s church photo-op. When Esper turned to Milley during their walk towards the church, the then-defense secretary told Milley that they had been “duped” and “used.”
According to the Insider, Milley agreed with Esper. Milley then turned to his chief of staff and said, “This is fucked up and this is a political event and I’m out of here. We’re getting the fuck out of here. I’m fucking done with this shit.”
Milley left the group before they arrived at the church.
Milley was ashamed over the situation and felt like “he was looking into a personal abyss,” according to Insider.
The new book reported that Milley sent a memo to the joint chiefs of staff and senior Pentagon officials the next day reminding them to “uphold the values of our nation, and operate consistent with national laws and our own high standards of conduct at all times.”
Milley reportedly included a handwritten note at the end reminding the senior Pentagon officials: “We all committed our lives to the idea that is America — we will stay true to that oath and the American people.”
Milley was disturbed so much by the church photo-op that he had considered resigning, the new book says. Milley reportedly asked former Secretary of State Colin Powell — who also previously served as joint chiefs chairman — whether he should resign.
“Fuck no!” Powell told Milley, according to the book. “I told you never to take the job. You never should have taken the job. Trump’s a fucking maniac.”
Milley went on to express remorse for his “mistake” in participating in the church photo-op during a keynote speech at National Defense University’s 2020 graduation ceremony days after the incident.
“As senior leaders, everything you do will be closely watched – and I am not immune,” Milley said during the keynote speech last year. “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 involvement in domestic politics. As a commissioned, uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I’ve learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it,” Milley added.
Milley’s reported regrets over his association with Trump’s church photo-op is among other revelations in the Post reporters’ new book that surfaced this week.
Milley is currently under fire from Trump and his allies after the new book reportedly revealed that Milley contacted Chinese officials in October and January of last year to tamp down any concerns that the U.S. was planning to strike the country. Milley also talked to senior military officials in the days after the Jan. 6 insurrection to make sure he was kept in the loop if Trump ordered any type of nuclear strike.
Trump and his allies predictably lashed out at Milley over his efforts to keep the then-President from dragging the U.S. into war with China. On Tuesday night, Trump called Milley a “dumbass” who ought to be tried for “treason,” and denied expressing a desire to attack China.
Trump’s allies in Congress are demanding Milley’s resignation and have similarly waged accusations of treason. Military experts did tell TPM that questions about Milley’s actions remain important, and some suggested the move could be viewed as an erosion of civilian control of the military.
On Thursday, chairs of the Jan. 6 select committee announced that the panel is probing the Pentagon’s reaction to Trump before and after Jan. 6 as well as Milley’s actions.