Former acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller invoked the Kent State massacre on Wednesday as he told Congress why he didn’t believe the US military should have responded to the Capitol insurrection, saying he sees the nation’s armed forces “as a last resort” when responding to protests.
“Historically, military responses to domestic protests have resulted in violations of Americans’ civil rights, and even in the case of the Kent State protests of the Vietnam War, tragic deaths,” Miller said at a hearing with the House Oversight Committee. “In short, I fervently believe the military should not be utilized in such scenarios other than as a last resort and only when all other assets have been expended.”
The May 4, 1970 incident at the university involved the Ohio National Guard firing on students as they protested against the Vietnam War. Four students were killed, while nine were injured in a massacre that dramatically changed the nation.
The comments from Miller come during his first public testimony on the deadly January 6 riot, in which pro-Trump protestors overcame US Capitol Police and other law enforcement and invaded the building.
The former acting secretary also told the panel that he was concerned sending US troops to the Capitol that day would have encouraged the conspiracy of a possible “military coup,” and he also worried that had he sent troops to the building any time before noon that day it would have “created the biggest constitutional crisis since Watergate,” according to a source familiar with his thinking.
Republicans defend rioters
The hearing, which also includes testimony from former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and DC Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee, at one point took an extraordinary turn as GOP Rep. Paul Gosar issued a full-throated defense of the rioters as he attacked the ongoing federal investigations into the participants of the insurrection.
“Outright propaganda and lies are being used to unleash the national security state against law-abiding US citizens, especially Trump voters,” Gosar claimed. “The FBI is fishing through homes of veterans and citizens with no criminal records and restricting the liberties of individuals that have never been accused of a crime.”
“The government has enlisted Americans to turn in their own neighbors,” the Arizona Republican added.
In a separate hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Attorney General Merrick Garland defended the Justice Department’s focus on investigating and prosecuting Capitol rioters.
“In my career as a judge and in law enforcement, I have not seen a more dangerous threat to democracy than the invasion of the Capitol,” Garland said.
“This was an attempt by some — I don’t want to be very careful to not ascribe it to all, because every case is individually decided — but there was an attempt to interfere with the fundamental passing element of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power,” he said.
Rosen pressed on conversations with Trump
Rosen at one point engaged in a tense back and forth with Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly over questions about conversations he had with then-President Donald Trump and actions Trump might have asked his then-acting attorney general to take in regard to the 2020 election results.
“Prior to January 6 were you asked or instructed by President Trump to take any action at the department to advance election fraud claims or to seek to overturn any part of the 2020 election results?” the Virginia Democrat asked.
“I can tell you what the actions of the department were,” Rosen replied, adding: “I cannot tell you consistent with my obligations today about private conversations with the president one way or the other.”
“You’re saying this is a privileged communication?” Connolly shot back.
“I’m saying that my responsibility is to tell you about the role of the Department of Justice and the actions we took,” Rosen said, to which the congressman responded: “No sir, your responsibility is to be accountable to the American people and this Congress. I can’t imagine a more critical question.”
This story is breaking and will be updated.