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Defense official resigns from Pentagon, slams Esper for role in President Trump's photo op

The resignation letter ends by saying, 'The sanctity of the U.S. Constitution, and the lives of Americans, may depend on your choices.'

WASHINGTON — A former top official at the Pentagon, James Miller, resigned from his position on a Defense Advisory Board. This resignation letter claims his decision was made over Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s participation in President Donald Trump’s photo op in front of St. John’s Church. 

The full resignation letter was published by the Washington Post on Tuesday. Miller left his post at the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board. 

"When I joined the Board in early 2014, after leaving government service as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, I again swore an oath of office, one familiar to you, that includes the commitment to 'support and defend the Constitution of the United States ... and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same,'" Miller wrote in the resignation letter addressed to Esper.

He added: "You recited that same oath on July 23, 2019, when you were sworn in as Secretary of Defense. On Monday, June 1, 2020, I believe that you violated that oath."

On Monday, moments after addressing the nation from the Rose Garden amid racial unrest, President Donald Trump left the White House to visit St. John's Church, a 200-year-old parish known as "the church of the presidents."

RELATED: Tear gas, flash bangs used to clear protesters from Lafayette Square before surprise President Trump photo opp

To prepare for the president's surprise visit, a group of peaceful protesters in a nearby park were cleared out using tear gas. The bursts could be heard during Trump's address. 

The visit to St. John’s Church -- where a fire broke out in the nursery during protests Sunday evening-- came minutes after Trump declared himself the "president of law and order" and warned the nation's governors and mayors to get tougher with violent protesters or he would deploy military forces to do so.

Credit: AP
President Donald Trump holds a Bible as he visits outside St. John's Church across Lafayette Park from the White House Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington. Park of the church was set on fire during protests on Sunday night. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Miller addressed the stunt in his resignation letter.

"President Trump’s actions Monday night violated his oath to 'take care that the laws be faithfully executed,' as well as the First Amendment 'right of the people peaceably to assemble.' You may not have been able to stop President Trump from directing this appalling use of force, but you could have chosen to oppose it. Instead, you visibly supported it," the letter reads.

The letter concludes with, "I wish you the best, in very difficult times. The sanctity of the U.S. Constitution, and the lives of Americans, may depend on your choices."

Esper told NBC on Tuesday that he wasn't given any notice about President Trump's plan to visit St. John's Episcopal Church. He thought he was "going to see some damage" and have an opportunity to "talk to the troops" that were out monitoring D.C. protesters.

Protesters have taken to the streets for days across the country after George Floyd was killed in police custody. 

A video shows Floyd, who is black, on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back while Officer Chauvin presses him to the pavement with his knee on Floyd's neck. The video shows Chauvin, who is white, holding Floyd down for minutes as Floyd complains he can't breathe.

RELATED: Independent autopsy says George Floyd died from 'asphyxiation from sustained pressure'

RELATED: Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin transferred to Oak Park Heights state prison