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Vowing To Uphold Constitutional Process, Joint Chiefs Of Staff Condemn Capitol Riot

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In an extraordinary move, the country's top military leaders have signed a joint statement harshly condemning last week's riot at the Capitol. The members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also pledged to uphold the constitutional process as any act to disrupt it is, quote, "not only against our traditions, values and oath; it is against the law." Joining us now with more - NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre.

Greg, what more can you tell us about this statement?

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: So this statement comes from the Joint Chiefs. The chairman, Army General Mark Milley, and the seven other members call the January 6 riot a, quote, "direct assault on the U.S. Congress, the Capitol building and our constitutional process." It's very strongly worded throughout, and it goes on to say that freedom of speech and assembly does not, quote, "give anyone the right to resort to violence, sedition or insurrection."

CORNISH: Before this violent riot, defense secretaries had spoken out - right? - former defense secretaries. Why is this current Joint Chiefs of Staff group taking a public position now?

MYRE: Yeah, it just - it seemed that the violence and the fury around it had really forced them to speak up. Milley and other senior military leaders have stated repeatedly that they do not want the armed forces involved in U.S. politics in any way. Milley, in fact, gave a very lengthy interview to NPR before the election in November, and he stressed that the country's had a more than 200-year tradition of an apolitical military. So the less it's seen around elections and transfers of power, the better. But these extraordinary events seem to have prompted them to make their position crystal-clear.

CORNISH: What have you learned about the role that the military played last week when it comes to dealing with that violent mob?

MYRE: So beforehand, it consulted with the Washington, D.C., police and the Capitol Police and others. And by mutual agreement, the military provided 340 National Guardsmen to the city of Washington, D.C. But they were unarmed, and their role was just to help with traffic flow around the city and really just to free up the Washington, D.C., police so they could handle law enforcement. The military has also said that the Capitol Police did not request any help in advance. But then once the riot broke out, the Pentagon started receiving this flurry of calls asking for immediate National Guard help, and they sort of sprung into action. There's been a lot of back-and-forth on exactly what happened and how quickly, but the first additional forces couldn't get there until later that evening after the event was over. Now there's about 6,200 National Guard personnel in Washington. That number is going to be beefed up to 10,000 or more by the time of the inauguration.

CORNISH: Before I let you go, does that statement make any mention of President Trump?

MYRE: No, it does not. He does not appear at all in this sort of six-paragraph statement. But it does say quite pointedly that President-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated next Wednesday, January 20, and that he will then become the commander-in-chief.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Greg Myre.

Thanks so much.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.