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Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, apologized Thursday for his participation in President Trump's photo op at St. John's Church last week.

Why it matters: Milley's comments come as tensions remain high between Trump and the Pentagon over the incident, which was preceded by the clearing of peaceful protesters from the area.

  • "I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics," Milley said during a prerecorded commencement address to National Defense University.
  • "As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from."

The big picture: The president has also clashed with Defense Secretary Mark Esper on the topic, prompting chatter that he was losing favor with Trump.

  • "I did know we were going to the church," Esper said last week. "I did not know a photo op was happening. ... I do everything I can to try to stay apolitical and to try and stay out of situations that may appear political."
  • The Times reported that Milley similarly believed that he was going "to review National Guard troops and other law enforcement personnel outside Lafayette Square."

Go deeper

10 hours ago - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

Scoop: Biden weighs retired General Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

Updated 12 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York COVID restrictions.
  3. World: Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.
  4. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in December Black Friday shopping across the U.S., in photosAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.