Defense

Trump campaign ad features military chiefs, violating Pentagon policy

President Trump’s reelection campaign is using the Pentagon’s senior civilian and uniformed officials in a new online advertisement, in violation of standing Pentagon policy.

The ad, which appeared as recently as Monday and targets possible mail-in voters, features a photo of Trump with Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley at his side as well as Vice President Pence.

“President Trump wants you to request your ballot,” the ad states.

Department of Defense (DOD) policy prohibits military members from participating in campaign activities such as volunteering for a candidate, attending a rally or appearing in materials while in uniform, though they are allowed to do so off duty.

Esper, in seeking to keep the Pentagon out of the Nov. 3 election, reiterated that service members must “uphold DOD’s longstanding tradition of remaining apolitical as we carry out our official responsibilities,” according to a February memo.

“As citizens, we exercise our right to vote and participate in government,” he wrote. “However, as public servants who have taken an oath to defend these principles … maintaining the hard-earned trust and confidence of the American people requires us to avoid any action that could imply endorsement of a political party, political candidate or campaign by any element of the Department.”

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ad, nor did the Pentagon.

Milley stressed the military’s “very, very long tradition” of remaining apolitical in an interview that aired Monday morning.

“We don’t swear an oath of allegiance to an individual, a king, a queen, a president or anything else. … We swear an oath to an idea, or a set of ideas and values, that are embedded in our Constitution,” he told NPR.

“We have established a very long 240-year tradition of an apolitical military that does not get involved in domestic politics,” he added.

Military leadership took heat this summer for appearing to take a political stance against nationwide protests over racial injustice.

In June, Milley and Esper appeared alongside Trump when he walked across Lafayette Square to pose for photos in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, which had been partially damaged by the protests. National Guard troops had also backed federal law enforcement agents in forcibly clearing protesters from the square across from the White House just before the pictures were taken.

Milley later apologized and said he regretted participating in the photo opportunity.

“I should not have been there,” Milley said during a recorded message aired at the graduation of the National Defense University. “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”

And Esper days after the event held a Pentagon press conference where he said he was attempting to keep the military out of politics.

“I’ve worked very hard to keep the department out of politics, which is very hard these days, as we move closer and closer to an election,” Esper said.

“Remaining apolitical means that there are times to speak up and times not to,” he added.

Tags 2020 2020 ads 2020 campaign Donald Trump Donald Trump photo op at St. John's Church Mark Esper Mark Milley

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