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Trump campaign used top general in ad without permission, too

It's not just Fauci: Team Trump is also running an ad featuring Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, but it didn't seek the general's permission.
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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley speaks before the presentation of the Space Force flag in the Oval Office of the White House on May 15, 2020.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images file

Donald Trump's re-election campaign drew the ire of Dr. Anthony Fauci this week when it took one of his quotes out of context and included it in a television ad without his consent. As it turns out, the immunologist isn't alone.

Politico reported overnight that the president's political operation is also running a digital ad featuring Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, but the campaign didn't seek the general's permission beforehand.

The military has strict rules against uniformed service members participating in political campaigns, and the ad is just the latest example of the president or those around him pulling the nation's highest-ranking officer and other Defense Department officials into the political realm.... Active-duty service members are prohibited from participating in fundraisers, speaking before partisan gatherings and wearing military uniforms at campaign events, according to DoD.

A Pentagon official told Politico, "This photo, like many others, was not used with [Milley's] knowledge or consent," said the official, who requested anonymity to speak about a sensitive topic.

The article went on to quote Jim Golby, a former Pentagon official who is now a senior fellow at the Clements Center at the University of Texas at Austin, describing the ad as "a disturbing violation of civil-military norms by the president's campaign." Golby added, "There is simply no reason for a sitting chairman of the Joint Chiefs to be included in an advertisement paid for by the campaign."

Time will tell what, if anything, happens next. It's doubtful the Trump campaign will pull or edit the ad -- the president has proven himself indifferent to U.S. military standards -- though Milley may yet make his dissatisfaction known, as Fauci has done.

Indeed, it's worth emphasizing for context that the Joint Chiefs chairman has been willing to put some distance between himself and the president who tapped him for his post. In June, for example, the general publicly expressed regret for his role in Trump's Lafayette Square debacle. (The president wasn't pleased by Milley's reaction.)

Two months later, after the president tried to discredit his own country's electoral system, and raised the prospect of ignoring election results he doesn't like, the Joint Chiefs chairman made explicit that the armed forces would not be involved in the electoral process or resolving an election dispute.

And this week, after Donald Trump told the public that all U.S. troops currently deployed in Afghanistan should be home by Christmas, Milley seemed to contradict the presidential campaign promise and said deployment decisions would be "conditions based."

Trump has reportedly treated the general as the top decision-maker at the Pentagon -- the president doesn't seem to care about civilian control of the military, either -- but if the Republican starts tweeting complaints about Milley, we'll apparently know why.