The fallout from President Trump's now-famous walk from the White House to St. John's Church continues: On Thursday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff apologized for joining the president on that June 1 walk in military fatigues, reports CNN. "I should not have been there," said Army Gen. Mark Milley in commencement remarks at the National Defense University. "My presence in that moment and in that environment 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." Related:
- On Floyd: Trump's walk became controversial because authorities cleared George Floyd protesters from his path to the church using tear gas (or something like it), and Trump then posed for photos holding a Bible. During his speech Thursday, Milley referred to Floyd, calling his killing "senseless and brutal." He said it "amplified the pain, the frustration, and the fear that so many of our fellow Americans live with day in, day out."
- Pentagon friction: Former Trump defense chief Jim Mattis previously rebuked Trump over the walk. And the Milley comments come amid another source of friction between Trump and the Pentagon: This week, after Milley and defense chief Mark Esper said they were open to the idea of renaming military bases named after Confederate leaders, Trump said that would not happen. On Thursday, meanwhile, a GOP-led Senate panel approved a plan to rename the bases, reports the AP.
- One take: "The back and forth between Mr. Trump and the Pentagon in recent days is evidence of the deepest civil-military divide since the Vietnam War—except this time, military leaders, after halting steps in the beginning, are now positioning themselves firmly with those calling for change," per the New York Times.
- Defense chief: Esper, who also joined the walk, wrote a letter to Congress with Milley reiterating they did not realize the walk would be used for a photo op, reports the Washington Post. “We participated in the walk with the aim of observing damage in Lafayette Square and at (St. John's) Church, and meeting with and thanking the National Guard members who were on duty,” they wrote.
- More on the letter: Esper and Milley also sought to clarify the military's role in the response to the protests, saying that National Guard troops in DC were there only in a supporting role and "were not ever in the District for purposes of civilian law enforcement.” Previously, Esper publicly disagreed with Trump on invoking the Insurrection Act—using the military in more of a domestic policing role—to quell protests.
- Trump: The president has not yet responded to Milley's comments, but earlier Thursday, he issued a tweet about the crackdown on protesters in DC: "Our great National Guard Troops who took care of the area around the White House could hardly believe how easy it was," he wrote. "'A walk in the park,' one said. The protesters, agitators, anarchists (ANTIFA), and others, were handled VERY easily by the Guard, D.C. Police, & S.S. GREAT JOB!"
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