Top US military officer reaches out to Capitol leaders

FILE - In this June 1, 2020, file photo President Donald Trump departs the White House to visit outside St. John's Church in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
FILE - In this June 1, 2020, file photo President Donald Trump departs the White House to visit outside St. John's Church in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – The nation's top military officer, Gen. Mark Milley, has spoken privately with key congressional leaders as Pentagon officials come under fire for the Defense Department’s role in containing protests following the police killing of George Floyd.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to express her concerns Tuesday, according to a person who was unauthorized to publicly discuss the private conversations and was granted anonymity. That was the day after authorities cleared protesters near the White House so President Donald Trump could hold a photo opportunity at a nearby church. Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper were sharply criticized for accompanying Trump.

Milley also reached out Tuesday to Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York, said another person granted anonymity to discuss the situation.

The outreach comes as Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper have tried to contain damage in the aftermath of Monday’s walk with Trump. Federal authorities used smoke canisters and pepper balls to clear peaceful protesters from a park so the president and his entourage could walk to the church and Trump could pose with a Bible.

Late Friday, Esper and Milley declined a request from Democrats to appear before the House Armed Services Committee next week.

“This is unacceptable,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the committee chairman, said in a statement Friday, joined by the panel's 30 Democrats.

“Our military leaders are sworn to be accountable to the people of this country, and Congress is constitutionally responsible for oversight,” the Democrats wrote. "They must appear and testify on these crucial matters in order to meet that responsibility.”

An informal briefing Friday with the Secretary of the Army was also canceled, according to a congressional aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a matter that had not been publicly disclosed.