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Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley: I won't be a Trump political prop again

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said Thursday

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said Thursday he was wrong to go with Trump administration officials on the June 1 walk, which ended in a photo-op after the clearing of protesters. Credit: AP / Patrick Semansky

'Mistake' to be at photo-op

Army Gen. Mark Milley, the nation's top military officer, said Thursday he was wrong to accompany President Donald Trump last week on a walk from the White House that ended in a photo-op at a church after protesters were driven from Lafayette Square.

He said his presence “created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”

“I should not have been there,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman said in prerecorded remarks to a National Defense University commencement ceremony, calling it “a mistake that I have learned from." His statement risked the wrath of a president who is sensitive to any hint of criticism of events he has staged and who sees apologizing as a sign of weakness.

“We must hold dear the principle of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the very essence of our republic,” Milley said. “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.” (Click here for a video excerpt of the general's remarks.)

Before deciding on the apology, Milley weighed resigning and sought advice, defense officials told NBC News. A senior administration official also said Milley got so fired up in a White House meeting last week when Trump wanted to use active-duty troops to quash protest unrest that the general shook his fists to emphasize his point.

A vote of confidence that the nation's military will abide its traditional neutrality in politics and the Constitution came from Joe Biden. On an interview shown on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" Wednesday night, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was asked if he had considered what would happen if Trump lost the election but refused to leave office.

"Yes, I have," Biden said, adding he was "so damn proud" of military leaders who have recently criticized Trump. He went on about host Trevor Noah's scenario: "You have four [former] chiefs of staff coming out and ripping the skin off of Trump, and you have so many rank-and-file military personnel saying, 'Whoa, we're not a military state, this is not who we are.' I promise you, I'm absolutely convinced, they will escort him from the White House with great dispatch."

Trump: I'll solve racism 'very easily'

Addressing issues of policing and racism from a Dallas megachurch, Trump told a law enforcement roundtable that bad cops are rare — "No matter where you go you have bad apples, and there are not too many of them.”

Reacting to the wider social upheavals since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the president said the nation "will make no progress and heal no wounds by falsely labeling tens of millions of decent Americans as racist or bigots." Trump proclaimed that the nation’s problems with racism will be solved "very easily. It will go quickly and it will go very easily."

Police must "dominate the streets," he said, describing the federal response to weeks of unrest that included violence and looting as "dominating the streets with compassion." Previewing an executive order the White House is developing, Trump said it "will encourage police departments nationwide to meet the most current, professional standards for the use of force, including tactics for de-escalation."

He elaborated: It "means force, but force with compassion." Or with more force if circumstances require: "If you're really going to have to do a job where somebody's really bad, you're going to have to do it with real strength, real power," he added.

Trump won applause from a supportive audience at the conservative, mostly white evangelical Gateway Church. Conspicuously absent among the law enforcement officials present were three from the nation's ninth-largest city who weren't invited: the police chief, the sheriff and the district attorney. All are black.

Trump, unlike Confederacy, won't give up

After the Civil War, a historical whitewashing of the Confederate legacy by sympathizers of the Old South who preferred a nobler version became known as the Lost Cause. Trump is not ready to yield on his insistence to preserve symbols that pay tribute to the Confederacy, such as Army bases named for its generals.

"THOSE THAT DENY THEIR HISTORY ARE DOOMED TO REPEAT IT!" Trump tweeted. It was a curious observation, given that advocates for renaming the bases see it as a belated reckoning with the history of slavery and white supremacy, not to mention stripping undue honor from rebel officers who were not only "traitors" but often terrible as military commanders.

"Hopefully our great Republican Senators won’t fall for this!" Trump said in another tweet. By the time he sent it, news emerged that the Republican-led Senate Armed Services Committee in a closed session on Wednesday approved a measure that would require the Defense Department to change the names of military bases and assets honoring Confederate leaders. The measure, introduced by Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren, was adopted by voice vote.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said Thursday he "is not opposed" to renaming military installations. Sen. Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican who supported Warren's amendment, said, "If we’re going to have bases throughout the United States, I think it should be with the names of individuals who fought for our country."

He'll take Seattle, by force

In tweets just after midnight Thursday and again in the afternoon, Trump threatened federal intervention to reclaim a part of a Seattle neighborhood where radical protesters set up barricades and have proclaimed a police-free "autonomous zone."

“Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will,” the president twice tweeted at Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. “This is not a game. These ugly Anarchists must be stooped IMMEDIATELY. MOVE FAST!” wrote Trump. "Stooped" was an apparent typo for "stopped."

The two Democratic officials seemed more inclined to try patiently to de-escalate and lessen the risk of a violent confrontation. Reports from the scene described an often carnival-like atmosphere, though police officials said there were unconfirmed stories of attempts to intimidate local businesses. Harold Scoggins, the fire chief, said, “We’ve been working step by step on how to build a relationship, build trust in small things, so we can figure this out together.”

Inslee tweeted that state officials will reject threats of military violence from the White House. “The U.S. military serves to protect Americans, not the fragility of an insecure president,” he tweeted. Inslee also wrote, “A man who is totally incapable of governing should stay out of Washington state’s business.”

Durkan's response to Trump: “Make us all safe. Go back to your bunker.”

Bailout club's secret membership

The federal officials responsible for spending $660 billion in taxpayer-backed small-business assistance say they will not disclose amounts or recipients of the subsidized loans, The Washington Post reports. That's a retreat from an earlier commitment to release individual loan data from the coronavirus business rescue.

The Small Business Administration previously released detailed borrower information dating to 1991 for the federal 7(a) program, a long-standing small-business loan on which the larger Paycheck Protection Program is based.

But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told a Senate hearing Wednesday that releasing the promised data would reveal "proprietary information" from the unnamed businesses. Advocacy groups said the decision could shield undeserving applicants from public scrutiny.

“Clearly, this is meant to prevent some entities from being embarrassed, or being revealed,” said Steve Ellis, president of the advocacy group Taxpayers for Common Sense. “Nobody forced them to take the money, and it was already set up so that they could return it with no questions asked. And they were told that this information would be made public when they applied for the loan.”

Fed hit by second wave of Trump

Trump ended his cease-fire with the Federal Reserve on Thursday after its chairman, Jerome Powell, warned that the U.S. economy faced “a long road” to recovery and as fears of a coronavirus resurgence tanked the stock market.

The president is counting on a strong and speedy rebound to lift his reelection chances. In a late-morning tweet after the markets opened sharply down, Trump said: “The Federal Reserve is wrong so often. I see the numbers also, and do MUCH better than they do. We will have a very good Third Quarter, a great Fourth Quarter, and one of our best ever years in 2021."

Trying to push back on fears that the White House might have to urge some businesses to close again, Mnuchin said it's "extremely unlikely" that would happen.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Vice President Mike Pence, whose coronavirus task force has faded into the background, deleted a tweet he posted on Wednesday night that featured a photo of himself speaking to Trump campaign staffers. At least 70 people could be seen crowded together in the Arlington, Virginia, offices, ignoring social distancing guidelines. None appeared to be wearing a mask.
  • Admission to Trump's planned June 19 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, will require ticket holders to waive their right to sue if they catch the coronavirus. Tulsa's mayor said the city is still working on details for the rally, which would violate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's social distancing guidelines, CBS News reported.
  • The Trump campaign knew in advance the significance to African Americans of June 19 — the Juneteenth date that marks the 1865 end of slavery — and campaign officials say they expected blowback though that wasn't their intent, The Associated Press reported. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), noting Tulsa's history of an anti-black massacre in 1921, charged: "This isn’t just a wink to white supremacists — he’s throwing them a welcome home party."
  • Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel made it official Thursday that Trump will accept the party's nomination in Jacksonville, Florida, where local officials won't let coronavirus concerns deter them from allowing a big crowd. Some lower-profile events will remain in Charlotte, North Carolina, because of signed contracts.
  • Given logistical challenges, the RNC has decided to recycle the party's 2016 convention platform instead of drafting a new one. That could be awkward. Though it had Barack Obama and not Trump in mind, the document censures "the current president" and decries a “huge increase in the national debt” (it's much worse under Trump). Also: "The current Administration has exceeded its constitutional authority, brazenly and flagrantly violated the separation of powers, sought to divide America into groups and turn citizen against citizen.”
  • Biden's campaign has launched a petition calling on Facebook to eliminate misinformation and avoid being used for voter suppression ahead of the election. "We've got to fix Facebook to protect our democracy and ensure fair elections," Biden said on Twitter. Facebook responded that it's up to Congress to set the rules around campaigns.

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