The top official in charge of the Pentagon and America’s defenses when rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 said he believes there was direct “cause-and-effect” between then-President Donald Trump’s words and the actions of the insurrectionist mob.
Former acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller said the crowd of Trump’s supporters would not have descended on the U.S. Capitol if the president had not delivered a speech just before the riot in which he decried the presidential election as “stolen.” Repeating baseless claims of election fraud he first made even before voting began, Trump alleged that a “criminal enterprise” involving Democrats, the news media and complicit Republicans had robbed him of victory, though he offered no evidence to support the existence of such a vast conspiracy.
“Would anybody have marched on the Capitol, and tried to overrun the Capitol, without the president’s speech? I think it’s pretty much definitive that wouldn’t have happened,” Miller told “Vice on Showtime” in an interview that aired Thursday.
“It seems cause-and-effect,” Miller said.
Trump was impeached in the House of Representatives but acquitted in the Senate on a charge of inciting the riot, which occurred as Congress was conducting the official count of the Electoral College vote, making official Trump’s defeat to his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden. Miller said he was uncertain whether Trump intended to provoke the crowd, though he said he found the president’s words “concerning” as he listened to them that morning.
“The question is, did he know he was enraging people to do that? I don’t know,” Miller said of Trump’s role in the attack, which left four of the president’s supporters and a Capitol police officer dead.
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MIller, who said he did not speak to Trump on Jan. 6, defended the military response to the riot amid ongoing criticism and investigations over the amount of time it took to deploy troops to defend the Capitol. He told Vice the response time was normal and that people’s expectations of immediate action have been colored by popular culture.
“It comes back to understanding how the military works – this isn’t a video game, it’s not ‘Halo,’ it’s not ‘Black Ops Call of Duty,'” he said.
Miller, a retired Army officer, became the acting head of the Defense Department in November when Trump fired Mark Esper days after his election loss. As Trump continued to fire and replace other Pentagon officials after the election, some grew concerned that Trump was considering using martial law to maintain power – an idea that was brought up in the White House on more than one occasion by some of the president’s more zealous supporters.
The speculation and concern that Trump might use the military to maintain power was such that all 10 living former secretaries of defense penned an op-ed in The Washington Post urging Miller and his subordinates to “refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election.”
“Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory,” they wrote. “Civilian and military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic.”
Miller said the concerns were overblown that the military might have done anything other than obey the U.S. Constitution, even if the president were behind the unlawful order because of “institutional” safeguards.
“I can’t imagine any situation where the armed forces of the United States would abide by an illegal order,” he said. “To have a perfect storm, where an order was given to execute a military coup, is not possible in the U.S. military right now.”
Miller said it was “complete hyperbole” to say that the U.S. came the closest it ever had to a military coup in the months between Trump’s defeat and his departure from the White House on Jan. 20.
“We fought a civil war over this once. The thing is, let’s not do it again,” Miller said.