Top general did not give his consent to be used in Trump political ad
President Donald Trump's campaign ran an online political ad using a picture of his vice president, Pentagon chief and senior military adviser who launched the crackdown on ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on October 29, 2019 observed from the Situation Room.
"President Trump wants you to request your ballot," the ad said. Clicking on the ad that says "Paid by Donald J. Trump for President, Inc" will take you to the Trump campaign sign-up page.
There's just one problem: the photo of the Joint Chief's chairman, General Mark Milley, was used without the officer's "knowledge or consent", according to a defense officer who asked for anonymity to speak on a sensitive subject.
The military has strict rules against uniformed members of the military who take part in political campaigns, and the ad is just the latest example of the president or his entourage pulling the country's highest officer and other Defense Department officials into the political realm.
"For reasons of longstanding policy, members of the military and federal employees acting in their official capacity are not allowed to carry out activities that associate the DOD with a partisan campaign or elections, candidates, causes or problems," says the website of the DOD a contribution from March 2019.
Active duty members are prohibited from participating in fundraisers, speaking at partisan gatherings, and wearing military uniforms at campaign events, according to the DoD.
Milley himself has stressed the apolitical nature of the military in recent weeks as politicians prepare for the possibility of a controversial election and Trump repeatedly suggests that if he is not declared the winner, he may not accept the results.
The military plays no role in domestic politics, Milley told NPR on Sunday in a rare interview.
"We, the US military, are sworn to obey the legal instructions of our civil leadership," said Milley. "And we want to make sure that there is always civil leadership and control of the military, and we will obey the legal instructions of civil control of the military."
Milley added that he was "very confident" that American institutions can handle electoral disputes.
"This is not the first time anyone has suggested that there could be a controversial election," said Milley. "And if so, it will be dealt with appropriately by the courts and US Congress. The US military has no role in determining the outcome of a US election. Zero.
Jim Golby, a former Pentagon official who is now a senior fellow at the Clements Center at the University of Texas at Austin, called the ad "a disturbing violation of civil-military norms by the president's campaign".
"There's just no reason to put a seated Joint Chiefs chairman on a campaign-paid ad," Golby said. "Milley was supposed to denounce his inclusion in the ad, but the president should never have put him in that situation."
Pentagon and Trump campaign spokesmen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Both Milley and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper strove to break away from politics this summer after Trump staged a photo with a Bible outside St. John's Church on June 1. Esper posed for the photo while Milley stood by the side. Esper later said he did not know law enforcement would evacuate Lafayette Square before the event, and Milley regretted attending.
The Esper and Milley ad surfaced a day after Anthony Fauci criticized the Trump campaign for including him in an ad.
"The comments attributed to me on the GOP campaign ad without my permission have been taken out of the context of a broad statement I made months ago about the efforts of federal health officials," he said.
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