The Pentagon’s two most senior figures were so angry about President Donald Trump’s unprecedented attack on senior military leadership earlier this month that they got on the phone with the White House chief of staff to express their dismay, according to several defense officials.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley spoke to Mark Meadows after Trump accused Pentagon leadership of waging wars to boost the profits of weapons manufacturers.
“I’m not saying the military’s in love with me – the soldiers are, the top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy,” Trump told reporters at a White House news conference on Labor Day.
The officials said Milley, who served for years in combat zones around the globe, was particularly distressed. Another defense official summed up reaction at the Pentagon, stating “the President went too far.”
Meadows attempted to walk back what Trump said on Fox News the next day, claiming the comments were “more directed about the military industrial complex.”
Concerns about Trump’s volatility
But the damage was already done, adding to concerns among many in Pentagon leadership about the President’s volatility and his potential to make unpredictable decisions during the campaign and beyond, whether he wins or loses in November. CNN has spoken to multiple defense officials about the stresses felt at the Pentagon in the runup to the election in particular.
While it’s always a priority for the military to keep out of politics, the President’s attempts to politicize the forces means this election is seen as particularly sensitive.