'Pretty Much Definitive': Former Acting SecDef Blames Trump Speech for Jan. 6 Capitol Riot

Christopher C. Miller has been named acting secretary of defense.
National Counterterrorism Center Director Christopher Miller testifies before a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing on 'worldwide threats to the homeland' on Sept. 17, 2020. President Trump named him acting secretary of defense on Nov. 9, 2020. (Chip Somodevilla/Pool via AP)

Former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said he doesn't believe the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol would have happened if President Donald Trump had not invited a crowd of his supporters to "walk down Pennsylvania Avenue" on Jan. 6.

"It seems cause and effect, yeah," Miller told VICE broadcasting company in an interview that will air Sunday on Showtime. "The question is, would anybody have marched on the Capitol and overrun the Capitol without the president's speech? I think it's pretty much definitive that wouldn't have happened."

Miller, a retired Army special operations officer and counterterrorism official, was the last person to serve in the defense secretary role after Trump fired Mark Esper following the November election. He had been in the job for about eight weeks when Trump supporters pushed past barriers and federal law enforcement agents on the Capitol lawn and forced their way into the building.

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Then-Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers inside the Capitol were voting to secure the results of the November election, which Trump falsely claimed had been stolen from him. Pence and others had to be rushed to safety as a mob broke windows to get into the Capitol. Hundreds of people -- including close to three dozen military service members and veterans -- have been arrested for their alleged involvement.

Miller told VICE that he found the things Trump said in his "Save America" rally speech "concerning." Whether Trump knew he was "enraging the crowd to do that," Miller said of the deadly riot that soon followed, "I don't know."

The retired Army officer is not the only member of Trump's cabinet to speak out about the riot. Former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who's married to Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, resigned soon after the siege, which she said deeply troubled her. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also stepped down, telling Trump in her resignation letter that there was "no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation."

Miller and other military leaders have faced questions about their response to the events that day, particularly on the amount of time it took National Guard members to arrive at the Capitol. He told VICE, "It comes back to understanding how the military works."

"This isn't a video game," he said. "It's not 'Halo.' It's not, you know, 'Black Ops: Call [of] Duty.'"

Military leaders have defended their response that day, though the commander of the National Guard in Washington, D.C., told lawmakers this month that he faced unusual restrictions from Pentagon leaders that delayed him dispatching troops to halt the siege.

Miller said he didn't speak to Trump on Jan. 6. He also hit back against the idea that the conditions that day could have led to a military coup had Trump ordered the Pentagon to get involved.

There are too many institutional safeguards in place to prevent the military from carrying out an illegal order, he said.

"To have a perfect storm where an order was given to execute a military coup is not possible in the United States military right now," Miller said. "... How much stress and strain can be put on the institutions is kind of what I'm hearing [being] asked.

"We fought a civil war over this once. The thing is, let's not do it again," he said.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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