Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the federal government should not invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 that allows the president to deploy USA military and federalized National Guard troops within the United States in some instances.
Retired Navy admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was "sickened" to see how law enforcement - including the National Guard - had cleared the area and warned against over-use of the U.S. military.
Amid the sometimes violent protests, looting, vandalism, and arson over the death of George Floyd last week, Esper noted that the U.S.is "not in one of those situations now" where the Insurrection Act needs to be used.
Esper has dispatched an infantry battalion designated Task Force 504 from Fort Bragg, North Carolina to Washington D.C. after President Trump vowed to use the military to gain control of Washington, D.C.
The president wanted to make the aggressive action in the nation's capital - where he wields disproportionate powers - an example for the rest of the country, a senior White House official said Tuesday.
President Donald Trump wants the United States military to take the lead in stopping violent race protests, making the Pentagon increasingly vulnerable to accusations of being a tool for his political goals.
"I did know that following the president's remarks on Monday evening that many of us were going to join President Trump and review the damage in Lafayette Park and at St. John's Episcopal Church", Esper said.
He acknowledged the difficulty of deploying the military without entering the political fray.
Protests have erupted across the US after the May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a white officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes during an arrest in Minneapolis. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Army Gen. Mark Milley, said he was unaware of what transpired moments before Trump left the White House grounds.
"They were not aware that park police and law enforcement made the decision to clear the square", the official said. The officials also did not see the president bring a Bible.
Esper also attempted to explain his use of the word "battlespace" when discussing quelling violence on the streets amid civil unrest.
Defense officials told CNN this week that there was deep and growing discomfort among some in the Pentagon even before Trump announced Monday that he is ready to deploy the military to enforce order inside the US.
But he added: "In retrospect I would use different wording, so as not to distract from the more important matters at hand".
Mark Esper was speaking to journalists in the Pentagon amid mounting disquiet about the increasingly militarized response to the George Floyd protests. "I was not briefed on them, nor should I expect to be", Esper said Wednesday when asked about the forceful expulsion of protesters in what he described as a law enforcement action. She refused to deploy the National Guard on Sunday at Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler's request because she was concerned it would escalate a tense situation, but on Monday activated 50 unarmed guard members in support roles.
While Esper said the military had "more often than not" been a leader on diversity, military leaders remain predominantly white and male and recent studies have indicated the problems that people of color and women face in advancing to the highest ranks. Critics have also cited cases of white nationalism in the military and the numerous Army bases across the South named after Confederate generals.