The top U.S. military official apologized on Thursday for being at President Donald Trump's side as he walked to a church for a photo opportunity after authorities dispersed protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets, the New York Times reported.
"I should not have been there," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley said in a prerecorded video commencement address to National Defense University, the paper said. "My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics."
Last week, scores of retired military and defense leaders denounced Trump and accused him of using the U.S. Armed Forces to undermine the rights of Americans protesting police brutality and the killing of George Floyd.
The condemnation Friday came in an op-ed in The Washington Post, signed by 89 former defense officials, and in a letter in support of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, signed by 55 retired military leaders.
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It comes days after law enforcement officers used tear gas and deployed flash bangs to disperse a peaceful protest near White House shortly before Trump walked to the area to pose with a Bible in front of a damaged church. The president also threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 to deploy federal troops to quell the protests.
The Post op-ed accuses Trump of betraying his oath of office “by threatening to order members of the U.S. military to violate the rights of their fellow Americans.” The defense leaders want the president to end any plan to send active-duty forces into cities and to avoid using them in any way that would threaten the constitutional rights of fellow Americans.