General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the man who accompanied Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Attorney General William Barr, and President Donald Trump on Trump's controversial church photo op that took place in the middle of black lives matter protests, apologized and said that he shouldn't have been present at the scene.
"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," Milley said in a prerecorded address to the National Defense University. "I should not have been there. 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," he continued. "We who wear the cloth of our nation come from the people of our nation. And we must hold dear the principle of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the very essence of our Republic. And this is not easy. 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."
The photo op occured after federal police cleared the area of largely peaceful demonstrators by firing gas canisters and using grenades containing rubber pellets to scatter the crowd. The president, who earlier berated state leaders by calling them "weak" said, “we’re going to do something that people haven’t seen before,” he said, “but you got to have total domination, and then you have to put them in jail.”
Once the protesters had been cleared, Trump walked with his top military and law enforcement advisors to the historic St. John’s Church for a three-minute photo op.
Speaking with NBC News , Esper said he thought the walk from the White House would be "to see some damage and talk to the troops." The following day, he said he did know they were embarking on a trip to the church but that he did not know "exactly where we were going when I arrived at the church and what the plans were once we got there."
Milley's statement comes as Trump faces further controversy for his violent response to peaceful protesters, which lead to condemnation from his former Defense Secretary James Mattis and from other retired military leaders.