Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Thursday lauded Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley for apologizing for accompanying President Donald Trump on his walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church earlier this month.
“I have nothing but deep admiration for and total confidence in General Milley as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Graham wrote on Twitter. “I support his statement in both substance and spirit regarding the recent presidential visit to St. Johns.”
“General Milley is a tremendous military leader who understands the long tradition of maintaining an apolitical, nonpartisan military,” the South Carolina Republican added.
Earlier Thursday, Milley expressed regret for walking with President Donald Trump to the church, where the president posed for a photo holding up a bible as he vowed to restore order in the wake of protests and riots sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis.
“My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics,” Milley said in a pre-recorded speech to National Defense University graduates. “As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it.”
Milley, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and Attorney General William Barr accompanied President Trump to Lafayette Square after protesters were cleared from the park. Democrats and the corporate media accused law enforcement of using tear gas against the protesters, a claim dismissed by the U.S. Park Police.
“To curtail the violence that was underway, the USPP, following established policy, issued three warnings over a loudspeaker to alert demonstrators on H Street to evacuate the area. Horse mounted patrol, Civil Disturbance Units and additional personnel were used to clear the area,” the U.S. Park Police said in a statement. “As many of the protestors became more combative, continued to throw projectiles, and attempted to grab officers’ weapons, officers then employed the use of smoke canisters and pepper balls. No tear gas was used by USPP officers or other assisting law enforcement partners to close the area at Lafayette Park. Subsequently, the fence was installed.”
In addition to Milley, Esper has sought to distance himself from the incident, saying in a press conference that he was not aware he would be accompanying President Trump to the church.
“I was not aware a photo op was happening,” Esper stated. “I do everything I can to stay apolitical.”
Later in his speech, Milley called Floyd’s death “senseless and brutal” and praised the national movement that’s followed as evidence that “freedom is working.”
“We never introduced federal troops on the streets of American as a result of the combined efforts of the National Guard and law enforcement at quelling the violence and deescalating very, very tense situations,” he said.
Milley also said the U.S. military must learn from the protests and do more to erase “centuries of injustice” to black Americans. He acknowledged that only a handful of black officers hold the top posts in all branches of the military.
The UPI contributed to this report.