Mark Milley says accompanying Trump for church photo-op was a mistake: 'I should not have been there'

According to the Army General, his presence compromised his commitment to a military detached from politics


                            Mark Milley says accompanying Trump for church photo-op was a mistake: 'I should not have been there'
(Getty Images)
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Army Gen. Mark Milley said on Thursday that he shouldn't have accompanied Donald Trump on a walk through Lafayette Square that ended in a presidential photo-op in front of a church, saying his presence “created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”

The Joint Chiefs chairman made the remarks during a National Defense University commencement ceremony. “I should not have been there,” he said. Trump made the June 1 walk to the church amid nationwide demonstrations in the aftermath of George Floyd's death at the hands of former Minneapolis officer while in police custody. According to Milley, his presence compromised his commitment to a military detached from politics.

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U.S. President Donald Trump (C) returns to the White House after posing for photographs in front of St. John's Episcopal Church on June 01, 2020, in Washington, DC. Trump held up a Bible while standing in front of the church, which was partially burned during violent protests the night before. (Getty Images)

“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.”

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After Secret Service cleared protesters, which many say were peaceful, from the Lafayette Square area, the president led an entourage that included Milley, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Attorney General William Barr, and others before he held up a Bible for the press. Milley's comments at the National Defense University were his first public statements about the June 1 event, which Trump supporters hailed as a leadership moment for Trump similar to when Winston Churchill inspected the bomb damages in London during the Second World War.

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The US Army general used the commencement address to raise the matter of his presence with the POTUS in Lafayette Square, advising all senior military leaders that they must be vigilant as their words and actions will be closely scrutinized amid the ongoing crisis. “And I am not immune," he said, referring to the photographs of him at Lafayette Square. “That sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society.”

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The army veteran said the lesson to be taken from that moment was that all in uniform were citizens first.

“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 one of us does every single day.”

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(L-R) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrive for a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony for retired four-star Army general Jack Keane in the East Room of the White House March 10, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Getty Images)

Milley urged military officers to recognize the Floyd killing 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 the first enslaved Africans were brought to the shores of Virginia.

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While Milley acknowledged that the military has made significant progress on race issues, he admitted there was still a lot of work to be done -- including creating congenial conditions for more African American officers to rise to the force's senior ranks. He noted that the Army has just one African American four-star general and that the Air Force is about to swear in the first-ever African American service chief under the Trump administration.

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