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Top US military chief apologises for accompanying Trump during church photo-op

America's most senior military official has apologised for accompanying President Donald Trump to a photo-op outside a church located near the White House. Trump drew ire from across the political aisle after being snapped holding a Bible outside the historic St John's church in Lafayette Square - a move that was only made possible after authorities cleared the area of protestors by firing tear gas and rubber bullets. 

General Mark Milley, who is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was captured walking behind the President along with Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Attorney General William Barr and several of Trump's senior aides and family members. 

In a pre-recorded video address to the National Defense University, General Milley apologised profusely for publicly representing the military in a matter of domestic affairs. 

"I should not have been there," Milley explained. "My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics."

He added:

"As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it. 

"We who wear the cloth of our nation, come from the people of our nation. We must hold dear the principle of an apolitical military, that is so deeply rooted in the very essence of our republic." 

Former Secretary of Defense, Gen. Jim Mattis, said he was "angry and appalled" at the President's appearance, writing in The Atlantic:

"When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”

Mattis added: "We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution." 

Others praised Trump for the gesture. Prominent evangelical leader, Franklin Graham, said he was "not offended that [Trump] held up the Bible." 

"As a matter of fact," he continued. "I was encouraged! I appreciate it. I believe that God’s Word is the only hope for each individual and for our nation." 

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