'I wish you the best': US military adviser resigns after Trump's controversial photo op at church

President Donald Trump looks to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper during a ceremony in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, July 23, 2019.Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press
  • A former principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy has resigned from the Defense Department's science board.
  • James Miller's reasoning centered on President Donald Trump's visit Monday to St. John's Church, where protesters were cleared with tear gas so that he could pose with a Bible for photographs.
  • Defense Secretary Mark Esper was also present during the visit.
  • "You may not have been able to stop President Trump from directing this appalling use of force, but you could have chosen to oppose it," Miller wrote to Esper in his resignation letter, which was obtained by The Washington Post. "Instead, you visibly supported it."

A Department of Defense adviser has resigned, effective immediately, from the military's science board, citing what he believed to be a violation of conduct from Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

In his resignation letter to Esper, which was obtained by The Washington Post, James Miller Jr., who served as the US undersecretary of defense for policy from 2012 to 2014, recalled that he swore an oath of office to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States" and "to bear true faith and allegiance to the same," similar to what the defense secretary had done before he took office.

"On Monday, June 1, 2020, I believe that you violated that oath," Miller wrote to Esper.Advertisement

Miller's reasoning centered on President Donald Trump's visit Monday to St. John's Church in Washington, DC, where peaceful protesters were cleared with tear gas so that he could pose with a Bible for photographs.

Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, the Episcopal bishop, described the scene to CNN and The Washington Post as an "abuse of sacred symbols" amid a "a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our churches stand for."

Budde told The Post that she "was not given even a courtesy call" that authorities would be clearing the area "with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop."
Advertisement

Esper, along with US Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was also present during the visit.

"Law-abiding protesters just outside the White House were dispersed using tear gas and rubber bullets — not for the sake of safety, but to clear a path for a presidential photo op," Miller wrote. "You then accompanied President Trump in walking from the White House to St. John's Episcopal Church for that photo." "You may not have been able to stop President Trump from directing this appalling use of force, but you could have chosen to oppose it," Miller added. "Instead, you visibly supported it."Advertisement

In his letter, Miller also queried Esper on where he believed the Constitution's limits were in relation to his duties.

"You must have thought long and hard about where that line should be drawn," Miller wrote. "I must now ask: If last night's blatant violations do not cross the line for you, what will?"

"Unfortunately, it appears there may be few if any lines that President Trump is not willing to cross, so you will probably be faced with this terrible question again in the coming days," he added. "You may be asked to take, or to direct the men and women serving in the US military to take, actions that further undermine the Constitution and harm Americans."Advertisement

Esper has said he was unaware of where he was going with the entourage on Monday.

"I thought I was going to do two things: to see some damage and to talk to the troops," he said in an NBC News interview.

"I didn't know where I was going," he added. "I wanted to see how much damage actually happened."Advertisement

Miller served on the military's Defense Science Board, which describes itself on its website as a group of retired senior officials who are "best equipped to tackle the Department's challenges in acquisition, cyber, communication technology, and weapons of mass destruction."

He was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the Defense Department's highest honorary award for civilians, four times in his career, according to his biography from the Center for a New American Security think tank.

"I wish you the best, in very difficult times," Miller said at the end of his letter. "The sanctity of the US Constitution, and the lives of Americans, may depend on your choices."Advertisement

{{}}