“I cannot wait to leave this job, believe me,” Miller said, according to the transcript posted Friday. “But part of me is like, I would have loved to have gotten involved in the acquisition process and try . . . and you know, talk about wicked problem.”
The comment appears to have been a joke about the difficulty of solving a thorny issue that has long dogged the Pentagon. It comes at a sensitive time for the acting defense secretary, who found himself in the middle of the Pentagon’s response to the riot at the Capitol just two months into the job.
“The Secretary often uses casual and humorous language with reporters and personnel during travel. That characteristic does not convey well in a written transcript but was obvious to participants,” a defense official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe Miller’s thinking.
Miller, who served in the D.C. National Guard as a military policeman, made the decision to deploy the National Guard to the Capitol amid the riot last week, but the Pentagon has come under fire from D.C. and Capitol Police officials for not sending out the Guard fast enough.
Pentagon officials have said D.C. authorities requested only a modest Guard presence in the run-up to the Jan. 6 riot and the Capitol Police requested no Guard presence at all. They say they mobilized as fast as they could from a cold start, having not prepared the D.C. Guard to respond to a riot.
Inspectors general for the departments of Justice, Defense, Interior and Homeland Security announced Friday that they will investigate how security officials prepared for and responded to the pro-Trump rally that led to the riot.
Because the District isn’t a state, the D.C. Guard answers to the president, but the president defers authority over the military force to the defense secretary and the Army secretary.
Miller, a former top counterterrorism official, took over on an acting basis at the Pentagon after Trump fired defense secretary Mark T. Esper in the days after the Nov. 3 election. The president had fallen out with Esper, who had recommended against deploying active-duty troops in the streets of the nation’s capital in response to racial justice protests and looting mid last year.
Miller has earned plaudits in the special operations and counterterrorism world. He previously served as an Army officer in combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and later oversaw special operations for the Trump administration from the Pentagon and ran the National Counterterrorism Center.
Miller was also asked by reporters about Russian activity beneath the threshold of armed conflict, sometimes described as “gray zone” activities or “hybrid warfare.”
The acting defense secretary, as a former Army officer, said he has professional respect for how the Russians have operated, describing the Kremlin as playing bad cards well, given that the nation has a declining population and an economy reliant on natural resources.
“I kind of, you know, like professionally I’m like, wow, they’re doing pretty well, and they’re using a lot of irregular warfare concepts, information, all this stuff, in a way that, you know, like . . . good on them,” Miller said.
Miller made the comments while returning from a trip where he visited the National Nuclear Security Administration in Oak Ridge, Tenn., Fort Campbell in Kentucky and U.S. Space Command and U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs, Colo.