In show biz, they'd say Gen. Mark Milley bombed.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has apologized to a lawmaker after a brief attempt at stand-up comedy before an audience of defense and intelligence officials missed the mark.
Gen. Mark Milley’s questionable comedy consisted of two groaners aimed at House impeachment hearing leader Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
Nobody laughed at either joke. Milley knew it and apologized Monday in a Twitter post published by the Joint Staff.
"Today I spoke with the Honorable Representative Adam Schiff and apologized for a comment I made, in jest, during opening remarks at the [Defense Intelligence Agency] change of command. My comments were in no way meant to be offensive," Milley said.
In remarks last Thursday at DIA headquarters on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C., Milley noted that Schiff was on the guest list but absent.
He took the opening to riff on Schiff's aggressive pursuit of the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump over allegations of wrongdoing in dealings with Ukraine.
The House voted to impeach Trump, but the Republican-controlled Senate acquitted him. Trump has since taken to calling the House Intelligence Committee chairman "shifty Schiff."
"I actually thought -- I was looking at the invite list -- and I saw Adam Schiff, Congressman Adam Schiff was here. He didn't, I don't think, show up, but I'm pretty sure CIA has an empty seat, so that's appropriate for covert operations," Milley said.
He got no response from the face-mask wearing audience of about 50 officials and family members.
Undaunted, Milley gave it another shot.
"We don't have ABC, NBC, CBS [or other news outlets present], but I thought we were going to have a hearing when I saw Schiff. I wasn't sure it was going to be a hearing or an indictment. I wasn't sure," he said.
Again, the audience didn't laugh.
There was no immediate response from Schiff's office, but a spokesperson for the congressman told Politico that Schiff "appreciated the call [from Milley] and looks forward to continuing to work with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Department of Defense."
Although Milley can occasionally offend some with off-hand remarks or behavior, he is also quick to apologize when he believes he has crossed a line.
On June 1, he walked across Lafayette Square outside the White House with President Donald Trump after the area had been aggressively cleared of protesters to allow the president to pose with a Bible for photos in front of St. John's Episcopal Church.
Milley would later apologize for participating in the walk. In a video, he said, "I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics."
The 62-year-old Milley's gruff and fast-talking demeanor can often obscure the scholarly background of a Princeton University graduate with a master's degree from Columbia University.
At the DIA ceremony, he went on to give moving tributes to the service of retiring DIA chief Army Lt. Gen. Robert P. Ashley Jr. and his successor, Army Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier.
He also reflected on the DIA's mission, an intelligence role that can be met with skepticism in a politically divided nation.
"Believe it or not, they're not part of a deep state," Milley said. "They are dedicated patriots. They're here to protect an idea, an idea that's embedded in the U.S. Constitution. They're here to protect the idea that we're all Americans, and we're all born free and equal. That's what the DIA is here for and for no other reason."
As a combat veteran and the son of an Iwo Jima veteran, Milley also spoke to the changing nature of war, dating back to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, and the mission of the DIA as the U.S. enters a new era of great power competition with Russia and China.
But he couldn't resist another joke, aimed at himself and his Boston-area buddies -- former Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville, who was in the audience.
Milley recalled a time in Iraq when he and McConville were both colonels, and Milley's infantry unit was pinned down in Baghdad in what he called a "very, very serious firefight."
McConville happened to be flying an AH-64 Apache helicopter gunship nearby and came to the aid of Milley's unit, laying down supporting rocket fire.
"He literally saved my life," Milley said, before delivering the punchline.
According to Milley, Dunford later asked McConville: "Jimmy, what were you thinking that day?"
As Milley tells it, McConville turned to Dunford and said: "Sir, I've been regretting it every day of my life."
Finally, Milley got a laugh from the audience.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.