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Democrats blast Trump's use of military against protests

Democratic lawmakers are blasting President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE’s reliance on the military to respond to protests and riots over police violence and racial injustice.

“At a time when our nation is hurting, the president continues to forgo any effort to calm tensions, as we had all hoped he would,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithHouse Democrat accuses Air Force of attempting to influence Georgia runoff races US national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names MORE (D-Wash.) said in a statement Tuesday.

“Instead he used force to remove peaceful protesters to stage a photo opportunity. Instead of taking a moment of silence in front of the historic St. John's Episcopal Church to pray for the lives lost, he gathered his cronies to take a picture. Instead of doing the right thing, he once again did the absolute wrong thing,” Smith said.

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The chairman added that he has “serious concerns about using military forces to respond to protesters.”

“I remain gravely concerned about President Trump’s seemingly autocratic rule and how it affects the judgement of our military leadership,” Smith said. “I have called for Secretary of Defense Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Trump loyalist to lead Pentagon transition | Democrats ask VA for vaccine distribution plan | Biden to get classified intel reports Ex-Nunes aide linked to Biden conspiracy theories will lead Pentagon transition Brennan takes final shot at Trump: 'I leave his fate to our judicial system, his infamy to history, & his legacy to a trash heap' MORE and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley to testify before our committee to explain this domestic engagement to the American people. The fate of our democracy depends on how we navigate this time of crisis.”

The comments came after a night when active-duty military police were sent to the D.C. region to be on standby, video of military helicopters flying low over D.C. to disperse protesters spread online and law enforcement used tear gas and smoke bombs to clear protesters from a park near the White House so Trump could walk to a photo op at a nearby church.

In a speech Monday evening, Trump also said “thousands and thousands” of troops were descending upon D.C. and threatened to deploy the military throughout the country if governors do not quell the protests.

Protests, some of which have turned violent or taken place amid looting, have spread across the country in response to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was died in Minneapolis police custody after an officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

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Several Democrats who served in the military expressed concern Monday about Trump turning to the Armed Forces.

Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Overnight Defense: Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper | Worries grow about rudderless post-election Pentagon | Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up | Pelosi says Esper firing shows Trump intent on sowing 'chaos' Democratic lawmakers lambast Trump over Esper firing as GOP remains mum MORE (D-Mass.), a Marine Corps veteran, called on service members to “lay down [their] arms” if Trump “chooses to abuse the military.”

“We are a nation founded in dissent, birthed in freedom, committed to equality, and yet regularly reminded that we struggle to achieve all three. The President has made it clear that the fight for these Constitutional principles is a fight against himself,” Moulton tweeted.

“And if he chooses to abuse the military as a tyrant would do — to stifle dissent, suppress freedom, & cement inequality — then I call on all our proud young men & women in uniform, as a veteran & a patriot, to lay down your arms, uphold your oath, & join this new march for freedom,” Mouton added in another tweet.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley have also stoked ire for their response to the crisis.

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Esper was heard in leaked audio of a call between Trump and governors advocating for the governors to “dominate the battlespace.”

Trump also said on the call he would put Milley — who is outside the chain of command and whose formal job is senior military adviser to the president — “in charge” of the protest response. Milley was seen in Army fatigues walking with Trump to the St. John’s Episcopal Church photo op.

Rep. Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinBickering Democrats return with divisions Questions swirl at Pentagon after wave of departures Overnight Defense: Another Defense official resigns | Pentagon chief says military 'remains strong' despite purge | Top contender for Biden DOD secretary would be historic pick MORE (D-Mich.), a former CIA analyst and Pentagon official, said veterans should “speak out and stand up for the core values they believe in.”

“I worked with General Milley at the Pentagon and I hope he’s thinking seriously about the moral and ethical issues surrounding his role in the coming days,” she tweeted.

Monday night’s clearing of protesters in Lafayette Square followed by Trump, Esper and Milley walking to the church, she added, “seemed to confirm that the president and senior Pentagon leadership are willing to use the military to further their political objectives. That they are willing to weaponize one sacred, American institution against another.”

Rep. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoFavorites emerge as Latino leaders press Biden to appoint 5 Hispanics to Cabinet Tony Cárdenas casts himself as man to lead DCCC through fire Hispanic Caucus endorses Cárdenas to lead DCCC MORE (D-Ariz.), a Marine Corps veteran, asked Milley in a one-sentence letter he shared on Twitter on Monday night if he “intend[s] to obey illegal orders from the President.”

“Trump says Chairman Milley is in charge. We need to know whether he intends to uphold his oath,” Gallego added in a second tweet.

Trump’s allies in Congress, however, defended his use of the military.

Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonLoeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection More conservatives break with Trump over election claims Warnock hit by Republicans over 'cannot serve God and the military' comment MORE (R-Ark.), who has called for Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty military to stop the protests, praised Milley, who was filmed meeting with National Guardsmen on D.C. streets Monday night, for his help.

“There’s no one better equipped to handle a crisis like this than General Milley,” Cotton tweeted. “Our thanks to him, our troops and federal law enforcement for their help in DC last night.”