The acting US defense secretary Christopher Miller “cannot wait” to leave his job.
The Trump appointee, who made the startling remark to reporters on Thursday, has come under pressure over the Pentagon’s response to the deadly attack on the US Capitol on 6 January, which the president incited as part of his denial of electoral defeat by Joe Biden.
Donald Trump has been impeached. Biden, who will be inaugurated as the 46th president on Wednesday, has nominated the retired general Lloyd Austin as secretary of defense.
Asked about a “list of flawed acquisition programmes” including littoral combat ships and the F-35, a fighter jet Trump has appeared to think is invisible, Miller said: “I so … I mean, I cannot wait to leave this job, believe me.”
According to a Pentagon transcript, he added: “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[s]”.
The former special forces officer was appointed to replace Mark Esper, who Trump fired after his election defeat. All 10 living former secretaries of defense subsequently voiced their concern about the transition of power, saying the military should play no role. Pentagon officials have reportedly sought to obstruct the transition.
The attack on the Capitol left five dead. Miller and the Pentagon came under fire for not sending national guard troops quickly enough to the scene. Asked on Thursday about deployments in Washington ahead of the inauguration and amid reports of new pro-Trump protests, Miller told reporters: “I have responsibility for everything, remember, if something goes wrong, I own it. Completely, 110%.”
The DoD transcript also showed Miller being asked if he was seeking “any additional authorities” for US Northern Command, which he visited on Thursday, regarding inauguration week.
“They got everything they need,” he said. “That was one of the conversations that we had. ‘Hey do you need anything?’ … We talked through some scenarios, obviously. Yes ma’am?”
A reporter asked: “Um, yeah so I guess … at Northcom, like what were you hoping to see?”
“Uh,” said Miller, “I needed to look the commander in the eye, because, you know, the president, SecDef, me … I, whatever the correct English is, you guys can clean that up. Should have paid more attention in high school. My wife would be ashamed of me not knowing the proper preposition – and then, uh General VanHerck.”
Glen D VanHerck, an air force general, leads the US Northern Command.
Miller also raised eyebrows by saying he had “professional respect” for how Russia uses irregular warfare concepts, adding: “Good on them.”
Discussing what such expensive programs as the F-35 jet were for, he said: “Well, we have to deter, blah blah bluh blah.”
Speaking anonymously to the Washington Post, a US defense official said Miller “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”.