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Top US General Apologises for Taking Part in Trump Walk during Protests

Tear gas floats in the air as a line of police move demonstrators away from St. John's Church across Lafayette Park from the White House, as they gather to protest the death of George Floyd, Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Tear gas floats in the air as a line of police move demonstrators away from St. John's Church across Lafayette Park from the White House, as they gather to protest the death of George Floyd, Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley said his presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.

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Army Gen. Mark Milley, the nation's top military officer, said Thursday he was wrong to have accompanied President Donald Trump on a walk to a church through Lafayette Square, where he was photographed in his combat uniform with the presidential entourage.

The statement by the Joint Chiefs chairman risked the wrath of a president sensitive to anything hinting of criticism of events he has staged. Trump's June 1 walk through the park to pose with a Bible at a church came after authorities used pepper spray and flash bangs to clear the park and streets of largely peaceful protesters.

Milley said his presence and the photographs compromised his commitment to a military divorced from politics.

"I should not have been there," Milley said in remarks to a National Defense University commencement ceremony.

Milley's public expression of regret comes as Pentagon leaders' relations with the White House are still tense after a disagreement last week over Trump's threat to use federal troops to quell civil unrest triggered by the death of George Floyd.

After protesters were cleared from the Lafayette Square area, Trump led an entourage that included Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper to St. John's Episcopal Church, where he held up a Bible for photographers and then returned to the White House.

"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."

Esper has not said publicly that he erred by being with Trump at that moment. He told a news conference last week that when they left the White House he thought they were going to inspect damage in the Square and at the church and to mingle with National Guard troops in the area.

Milley's comments at the National Defense University were his first public statements about the Lafayette Square event on June 1, which the White House has hailed as a "leadership moment" for Trump akin to Winston Churchill inspecting damage from German bombs in London during World War II.

The public uproar following Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police has created multiple layers of extraordinary tension between Trump and senior Pentagon officials. When Esper told reporters on June 3 that he had opposed Trump bringing active-duty troops on the streets of the nation's capital to confront protesters and potential looters, Trump castigated him in a face-to-face meeting.

Just this week, Esper and Milley let it be known through their spokesmen that they were open to a "bipartisan discussion" of whether the 10 Army bases named for Confederate Army officers should be renamed as a gesture aiming to disassociating the military from the racist legacy of the Civil War.

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