All 10 living former defense secretaries issue a warning to Trump over threats to use the military to dispute the election

Mark Milley
President Trump’s Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said in September: “In the event of a dispute over some aspect of the elections, by law, US courts and the US Congress are required to resolve any disputes, not the US military.”

  • All ten living former defense secretaries — both Republicans and Democrats — wrote a Washington Post editorial urging President Donald Trump to refrain from using the military to interfere in the election.
  • The signatories stressed that involving the military in election disputes could result in criminal charges.
  • Trump has repeatedly suggested that there may not be a “peaceful transfer of power” and has reportedly entertained suggestions that the military step in to help him dispute the election.
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Nearly a dozen former defense secretaries published a Washington Post editorial on Sunday, warning President Donald Trump of the dangers of using the military to dispute the election. 

The editorial, titled “Involving the military in election disputes would cross into dangerous territory,” was signed by all ten living former defense secretaries, including two who served under President Trump, Mark Esper and James Mattis.

Other signees included Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel, and Ashton Carter, who served under Barack Obama; Robert Gates, who served under Obama and George W. Bush; William Cohen and William Perry, who served under Bill Clinton;  Dick Cheney, who served as DOD secretary under George H.W. Bush; and Donald Rumsfeld, who served first under Gerald Ford in 1975 and was later tapped for the role under George W. Bush. 

The letter urged the president to accept the results of the election and stressed that the military should not be used to fulfill political ends. 

“American elections and the peaceful transfers of power that result are hallmarks of our democracy,” they wrote in The Washington Post, adding that the administration should “refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder the success of the new team.”

“The time for questioning the results has passed; the time for the formal counting of the electoral college votes, as prescribed in the Constitution and statute, has arrived,” the letter continued.

The former secretaries also cautioned that anyone found to be interfering in the election could potentially be subject to criminal charges.

“Efforts to involve the US armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful, and unconstitutional territory,” they wrote. “Civilian and military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic.”

The editorial offered a direct message to Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, who in December halted meetings with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team. Miller claimed meetings weren’t canceled, but had been delayed because of the holidays. 

Biden transition director Yohannes Abraham told Axios, however, that no holiday contingency plans had been made.

“Let me be clear: there was no mutually agreed-upon holiday break,” he said.  

“Acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller and his subordinates – political appointees, officers and civil servants – are each bound by oath, law, and precedent to facilitate the entry into office of the incoming administration, and to do so wholeheartedly,” the editorial said. “They must also refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder the success of the new team.”

Hagel, one of Obama’s DOD secretaries, told the Post on Sunday that he initially thought writing such an editorial would be an overreaction, but then reconsidered. 

“This is a fundamental element of our democracy, and it lands squarely in the responsibilities of defense officials,” Hagel said. “I thought, in the end, that this was something that was important that we do.”

Trump’s inner circle has suggested imposing martial law

Rumblings about Trump’s desire to use the military to intervene in the election began in September after Trump refused to commit to a “peaceful transfer of power.” Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley was asked by Congress what, if any, role the military should have in the election.

“I believe deeply in the principle of an apolitical US military,” Milley said. “In the event of a dispute over some aspect of the elections, by law, US courts and the US Congress are required to resolve any disputes, not the US military. I foresee no role for the US armed forces in this process.”

The idea was once again brought up by Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who appeared on the conservative channel Newsmax on December 18 to suggest that the military be brought in to “rerun” the election. 

“He could order the, within the swing states, if he wanted to, he could take military capabilities, and he could place those in states and basically rerun an election in each of those states. It’s not unprecedented,” Flynn told host Greg Kelley. 

During a meeting with Flynn, former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, and Rudy Giuliani the following day, Trump asked about Flynn’s idea, The New York Times reported.

Trump dismissed the claims as “fake news.”

The Post editorial comes amidst the release of a recorded conversation between Trump and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp in which the president repeatedly pressured Kemp to void the state’s election results and “find 1,780 votes, which is one more than we have.”

President-elect Joe Biden won Georgia by a margin of 11,779 votes.

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