The two were unaware that local law enforcement would clear the protesters’ area, said a second senior defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue.
Esper and Milley were in fact on their way to the FBI field office in Washington on Monday evening when they were asked to go to the White House to inform the president of the protest response, according to the two defense officials.
“While they were there after the meeting, the president indicated that he wished to see the troops that were outside, and the secretary and the president went with him,” said the senior official. defense official.
Esper later told NBC News that he also thought they would inspect the damage in the area.
“I thought I was going to do two things: see damage and speak to the troops,” said Esper. “I didn’t know where I was going.”
After the photo, Milley was then filmed walking the streets in her combat gear – a move that drew strong criticism.
“It is useless and perpetuates the message that the military is responsible for the overall response; that it is a military problem rather than a social or political problem to be resolved, ”said Lindsay Cohn, associate professor at Naval War College, specializing in civil-military relations.
Another defense official defended the president’s choice of uniform, saying he often wore his clothes at the Pentagon. It made no sense to return to the Pentagon to change while he was already in the city, the official said.
A fourth defense official who was not allowed to speak publicly said that there had been a high level of dismay among Pentagon officials during the past day that Milley was no longer listening the way his presence could send the wrong message – and confuse the tough of the military – fought the reputation of being above the political fray.
“His predecessor did a much better job of staying out of the line of fire,” said the official, referring to Dunford, who stepped down as president last year. “Milley went straight into the line of fire.”
James Miller, a former Pentagon official and member of the Defense Science Board, resigned from the advisory group for Esper’s management of the church incident on Tuesday.
“President Trump’s actions on Monday night violated his oath to” ensure laws are faithfully executed “, as well as the right of the first amendment” to the people to assemble peacefully, “Miller wrote in a letter to Esper, then shared with The Washington Post. “You may not have been able to prevent President Trump from directing this appalling use of force, but you could have chosen to oppose it. Instead, you obviously supported it. ‘”
Representative Adam Smith of Washington, Democratic Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, came to defense of Milley on Monday, saying that the general was trying to do the right thing and that he “was there to try to make sure that the Guard troops were acting appropriately. … I think the message he was trying to convey … was appropriate. “
Nevertheless, “I think he may have read the perspective of the president of the Joint Staff in uniform walking around the national capital. … I don’t think it was his intention to send this message, “Smith told reporters.
But in addition to the harsh rhetoric of Esper earlier today and the dispersal of peaceful protesters outside the White House, Milley’s presence was detrimental, he said.
“The optics of him in uniform there might not have been so bad if we hadn’t the president there talking about waging war with the country and using the army and use overwhelming force and Secretary Esper talk about the need to occupy the battle space, “said Smith.” If you take all of that rhetoric out of the equation, then … President Milley walking around may be a different message. But yes, in uniform there, a little problem. “
Smith called Esper and Milley to testify before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday next week.