The admission, during a press gaggle Thursday on his way back from a trip to Nebraska, Tennessee and Colorado, was one of a number of stunning statements from the man President Donald Trump picked to take over the position just over two months ago.
The comments came the same day the Pentagon said at least 21,000 National Guard are being mobilized in Washington, DC, amid security concerns around next week’s inauguration following the deadly riots at the Capitol.
Miller was asked about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), a fifth-generation fighter jet considered the most expensive weapons program in history used by the Air Force, Marines and Navy. After clarifying that the question is about the F-35 and not a different weapons system, Miller begins his answer by saying, “I so…I mean, I cannot wait to leave this job, believe me.”
He then apparently went on to disparage the latest American fighter jet, a program that cost more than $1 trillion, saying, “Yesterday we were talking to some guy, some lieutenant colonel, or colonel, said ‘what are you flying?’ Said ‘F-35,’ I was like that’s a piece of … and he was like … and he laughed, and I was like, ‘No seriously, tell me about it.'”
“I’m like, we have created a monster, but you know that,” he concluded.
Miller was also asked what he had learned about Russian activity below the threshold of war. “Good on them” was his surprising response.
“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,” he said.
The transcript does not make it clear what news outlets joined Miller on his trip or who asked the questions.
A defense official traveling with Miller said, “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.”
When asked what he wanted to see from Northern Command next week, Miller gave a meandering response that comes across as incoherent at times. “Uh, 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. So, you know, you just, I said it before, you can have all day long, you know, but you wanna, like, I wanted to look the guy in the eye and get a sense for his soul and I think he probably needed to do that for me as well,” Miller said.
Miller moved forward with the Afghanistan withdrawal, despite the National Defense Authorization Act prohibiting the use of Pentagon funds to remove troops without a congressional review. Trump waived the limitations on the troop reduction in the “national security interests of the United States,” Major Rob Lodewick, a Pentagon spokesman said.
This story has been updated with additional comments from Miller and background.