WASHINGTON — Active military troops staged just outside of DC to engage protestors last week were issued live ammunition and bayonets in preparation for their joining the force confronting demonstrators, officials conceded Thursday.
The new information on the active forces, all who have returned to home bases, came as Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Thursday apologized for accompanying President Trump to a photo opportunity at a Washington church 10 days ago, saying his being there “created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
Milley had retreated from public view after the photo-op and an ensuing night spent visiting troops on the streets of Washington. He was dressed in battle fatigues both times.
He used the occasion of a video commencement address to National Defense University to apologize.
“We who wear the cloth of our nation come from the people of our nation,” Milley said. “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.”
Miley said his being there with Trump “was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it.”
Law enforcement used tear gas, rubber bullets, and other means to violently clear demonstrators from Lafayette Square to permit Trump, Milley and others to stroll across the area to nearby St. John’s Church, where the president posed with a Bible.
Last week Pentagon officials said Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper were heading to the Washington Field Office of the FBI when called to the White House. That was the reason cited for Milley being in battle fatigues as opposed to the more dress uniform he usually wears to the White House.
It did not explain his decision to inspect the troops that night, a move that triggered widespread criticism from retired military personnel and officials.
Milley has not appeared in public since that photo-op. Esper met with reporters two days after the photo op, when he suggested it had been wrong for him to participate.
Esper also said then he opposed using the Insurrection Action to release active forces onto the streets to oppose demonstrators. Those remarks reportedly angered Trump.
Esper and Milley have refused to appear before the House Armed Services Committee to discuss the actions of last week.
“It is unacceptable that, except for staff communication, you have not responded to our formal written request that you and Chairman Milley appear before the committee for a hearing on the Department’s roles and authorities in civilian law enforcement,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the committee chair, wrote to the men.
“We understand that the White House may be preventing you from testifying, obstructing Congress’ ability to conduct its constitutionally charged oversight responsibility,” he said. He asked them to provide times their availability “no later than June 11, 2020 (which is today) so that we can schedule a hearing.”