Sen. Lindsey Graham, a staunch backer of President Donald Trump, expressed support for Gen. Mark Milley after the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff apologized for appearing in a video with the President that followed peaceful protesters being forcefully cleared from a park near the White House.
“I have nothing but deep admiration for and total confidence in General Milley as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” the South Carolina Republican tweeted on Thursday. “I support his statement in both substance and spirit regarding the recent presidential visit to St. Johns.”
Graham added, “General Milley is a tremendous military leader who understands the long tradition of maintaining an apolitical, nonpartisan military.”
Milley earlier on Thursday called his appearance in a controversial White House photo-op a “mistake,” saying that his presence “created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
Last week, federal law enforcement armed with riot gear, smoke canisters and rubber bullets dispersed peaceful protesters in front of the White House before declaring Trump declared himself the “law and order” President. He then walked across the street to stand in front of the church, holding up a Bible for a photo-op.
Milley said during a pre-recorded speech released on Thursday that he regrets accompanying Trump on the walk from the White House to St. John’s Church, where he was photographed wearing his combat uniform and moving with the President’s entourage.
“As senior leaders, everything you do will be closely watched. And I am not immune,” Milley said in the speech to a group of graduates from the National Defense University. “As many of you saw, the result of the photograph of me at Lafayette Square last week. That sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society.”
Graham wasn’t the only Republican to offer support for Milley. Sen. Lisa Murkowski – an Alaska Republican who earned Trump’s ire after applauding former Defense Secretary and Marine Gen. James Mattis’ comments castigating the President for what transpired in Lafayette Square – called Milley’s apology “a good, strong statement for him to make, and I appreciated it.”
Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger told CNN on Thursday that Milley was right to speak out if he felt that he shouldn’t have been present for the President’s photo-op.
“When I saw him accompanying the President, I did not feel what some people felt,” Kinzinger said, adding that Milley is capable of deciding how his appearance may have been perceived. “I thought it was totally appropriate for the general to make the comments. If Milley thought that was the right thing to do, I totally support that.”
A US defense official told reporters last week that Milley, as well as Defense Secretary Mark Esper, “were not aware that the Park Police and law enforcement had made a decision to clear the square.”
The two had been summoned to the Oval Office in the preceding hours to update the President on efforts to use the military to tamp down on violence, and the official suggested neither man planned to join Trump as he walked across Lafayette Square to the church.
“As that meeting concluded, the President indicated an interest in viewing the troops that were outside, and the secretary and the chairman went with him to do so. That was the extent of what was taking place,” the official said.
Esper has since expressed similar sentiments to Milley’s, distancing himself last week from the maligned photo-op.
CNN’s Zachary Cohen, Phil Mattingly, Ryan Browne, Barbara Starr, Manu Raju, Ted Barrett, Ali Zaslav, Sam Fossum, Kevin Liptak, Alex Marquardt, Evan Perez, David Shortell and Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.