Washington D.C. Bureau

Nation’s top military leaders put on hot seat about their role in Trump’s church photo op

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (NEXSTAR) — The nation’s top military leaders were in the hot seat on Capitol Hill. 

Lawmakers took the opportunity to ask about protesters being cleared last month — before President Trump’s church photo-op. 

“It’s still unclear to me who gave the order at that time,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said.

“See I find that hard to believe,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said.

Lawmakers grilled the nation’s top general, Mark Milley and defense secretary, Mark Esper — more than a month after peaceful demonstrators were forcibly cleared from outside the White House — asking how it happened and on whose order. 

“It’s like a pretty big decision, a lot of people there,” Rep. Smith said. “Everyone’s there and it just sort of happened?”

“No, I’m not saying, I’m just saying I don’t know,” Esper said. “I’ve never inquired.”

Lawmakers also inquired about President Trump’s photo-op following the unrest, which secretary Esper took part in. 

“I was very disturbed by seeing that,” Rep. Gil Cisneros, D-Calif., said.

Congressman Gil Cisneros — a Navy veteran — says the optics of that moment undermined the country’s Armed Forces. 

“Just so the president could take a photo-op in front of a church,” Rep. Cisneros said. “This is something we need to get to the bottom of.”

Some Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee have called on Esper and Milley to resign over the incident.

Both Esper and Milley have since apologized for attending the president’s photo op.

“The United States military hold dear the constitution, and the principle of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the very essence of our republic,” Milley said.

Esper and Milley defended deploying National Guard troops in response to recent protests, but told lawmakers that no active duty military have taken part.

“Active duty forces in a direct law enforcement role should remain a last resort,” Esper said.

Both leaders commended peaceful protesters for standing against injustice. 

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