Pentagon officials distanced themselves from President Donald Trump’s warning that he could use active-duty military forces to clamp down on protests around the country, saying that it would be better to rely on National Guard for law enforcement where needed.
That appeared to be a rejoinder to Trump’s statement in the Rose Garden on Monday that he could deploy the U.S. military to end “riots and lawlessness” across the country.
A Defense Department official briefing reporters on Tuesday said the Pentagon would prefer to lean on National Guard resources, even though some active-duty forces have been put on heightened alert for potential deployment, most likely in Washington. About 2,800 National Guard members are expected to be on duty in the U.S. capital by Tuesday evening, the official, who asked not to be identified, said.
The Pentagon also distanced its leaders from the decision to have law enforcement force back peaceful protesters outside the White House, which allowed the president to walk across Lafayette Square to stand outside a damaged church while holding up a Bible for photographers.
George Floyd’s death: Can Trump send the US military to quell violence at protests?
Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley didn’t know the area would be swept of demonstrators and that they would be joining Trump on a walk to Saint John’s Church, across the square from the White House, according to the defense official. At the church, with the smell of tear gas still in the air, Trump stood holding a Bible in a move seen by critics as a photo opportunity.
“We have the greatest country in the world,” Trump said. “We’re going to keep it safe.”