Top U.S. general regrets joining Trump church walk during protests

"I should not have been there."

The top U.S. military officer on Thursday said he made a mistake by joining President Donald Trump for a controversial photo opportunity outside a church, a visit made possible after a violent crackdown on peaceful protestors near the White House.

General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the apology in a pre-recorded address at the National Defense University.

"My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics."

Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper walked with the Republican president during his surprise trip to the historic Saint John’s Church on June 1, during which he held up a Bible for photographers.

The visit earned scathing condemnation from Democrats, some Republicans, and Trump's own former Pentagon chief, General James Mattis.

But Trump on Thursday praised the effectiveness of that very crackdown, tweeting "Our great National Guard Troops who took care of the area around the White House could hardly believe how easy it was. “A walk in the park”, one said."

He also thanked both D.C. police and his own Secret Service, which he chose to abbreviate as S.S., writing "GREAT JOB."

The S.S. commonly refers to the Schutzstaffel, the arm of Hitler's Nazi party that carried out the mass murder of European Jews and other minorities.

Reuters reported last week that Milley, Defense Secretary Esper, and Attorney General William Barr opposed Trump's desire to deploy 10,000 troops in D.C. to confront the protests.