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James Mattis

Former Defense Secretary and CIA chief Robert Gates said Thursday that it was "misguided" and "a bad mistake" to push away peaceful protesters at St. John's Church in Washington, D.C., where they had congregated on June 1 after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

The area was cleared with chemical irritants before President Trump took a photo with the Bible in front of the church.

In rare public comments, the former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Ret. Gen. Martin Dempsey condemned Trump's threat to use military force to suppress nationwide protests as "dangerous" and "very troubling," in an interview with NPR on Thursday.

"The idea that the president would take charge of the situation using the military was troubling to me," Gen. Dempsey said.

Retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, who resigned as President Trump's defense secretary nearly a year and a half ago over policy differences, has issued an extraordinary critique of the White House's handling of nationwide unrest, saying Trump has sought to divide Americans and warning against "militarizing our response" to the protests.

Updated at 7 p.m. ET

In a move that possibly placed his job in peril, Defense Secretary Mark Esper publicly disagreed Wednesday with President Trump's threatened use of the 1807 Insurrection Act to quell widespread unrest over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck.