The top U.S. military official apologized Thursday for being at President Donald Trump's side as he walked to a church for a photo opportunity after authorities dispersed protesters with pepper spray and rubber bullets.
"I should not have been there," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley said of the June 1 appearance in a prerecorded video commencement address to National Defense University, the paper said.
He said his presence and the photographs compromised his commitment to a military divorced from politics "My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics."
Milley's apology was first reported by The New York Times.
His statement risked the wrath of a president sensitive to anything hinting of criticism of events he has staged. It 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 Floyd's death.
Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper walked with the Republican president during his surprise trip to the historic Saint John’s Church on June 1, where Trump held up a Bible for photographers.
Law enforcement used pepper spray, flash bangs, and rubber bullets to disperse mostly peaceful protesters before Trump crossed the street to the church, drawing condemnation from Democrats and some Republicans.
"As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from" Milley said.
Protests spread nationwide in response to the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes in Minneapolis on May 25.
Milley spoke at length about the need to address racism in America, and of the need for the armed forces to do more to improve inequality in their ranks.
"I am outraged by the senseless and brutal killing of George Floyd," Milley said. "His death amplified the pain, the frustration and the fear that so many of our fellow Americans live with day-in, day-out. The protests that have ensued not only speak to his killing but also to the centuries of injustice towards African Americans. What we have seen is the long shadow of our original sin in Jamestown 401 years ago."
This report contains material from Reuters, The Associated Press, and Bloomberg News.
© 2021 Newsmax. All rights reserved.