The 10 living former secretaries of defense have co-signed an op-ed published by the Washington Post on Sunday in which they warn President Donald Trump against using the military to try and remain in power.
“American elections and the peaceful transfers of power that result are hallmarks of our democracy. With one singular and tragic exception that cost the lives of more Americans than all of our other wars combined, the United States has had an unbroken record of such transitions since 1789, including in times of partisan strife, war, epidemics, and economic depression,” they wrote, in reference to the Civil War.
“This year should be no exception,” said the op-ed signed by Ashton Carter, Dick Cheney, William Cohen, Mark Esper, Robert Gates, Chuck Hagel, James Mattis, Leon Panetta, William Perry, and Donald Rumsfeld.
“Our elections have occurred. Recounts and audits have been conducted. Appropriate challenges have been addressed by the courts. Governors have certified the results. And the electoral college has voted. 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 op-ed continues.
“As senior Defense Department leaders have noted, ‘there’s no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of a U.S. election.’ Efforts to involve the U.S. 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.”
Separately, Politico cited the president’s “rhetoric in the months since he lost the Nov. 3 election” which has allegedly “led to speculation that he might deploy the military in an attempt to hold on to power.” The outlet went on to note that the president has repeatedly said that he believes the election was rigged and that he was “cheated out of victory.”
President Trump has never indicated publicly that he would attempt to use the military to remain in power, nor threatened to do so.
Nevertheless, Politico said that the letter was organized by Eric Edelman, a one-time U.S. ambassador to Turkey and undersecretary of defense under George W. Bush. Edelman told Politico the idea for the op-ed came from conversations he has had with Cheney, whose daughter Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), has been a frequent critic of the president.
“This summer, when I was starting to get ready to help organize the national security Republicans who endorsed Biden, along with Sean O’Keefe, who was [Cheney’s] secretary of the Navy … I was talking to him about this on and off and expressing my concerns about Trump, much of which he shared,” he said.
Edelman then cited a Washington Post column by David Ignatius published Dec. 26 in which he claimed that “potential domestic and foreign turmoil could give President Trump an excuse to cling to power.”
“This threat, while unlikely to materialize, is concerning senior officials, including Republicans who have supported Trump in the past but believe he is now threatening to overstep the constitutional limits on his power,” Ignatius wrote.
“When the David Ignatius piece came out, that was alarming,” Edelman told Politico. “It was not inconsistent with conversations I had with Esper after he resigned, in term of concerns about what might be going on with this clown-car of people that they’ve got over there around [Acting Defense Secretary Chris] Miller.
“When you are a former senior official, people you know are still there, you hear stuff,” he told Politico. “I’d heard things that were eerily similar to what was in the Ignatius column.”
In their op-ed/letter, the former defense chiefs called on Miller and those who answer to him to “refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder the success of the new team.”
“We call upon them, in the strongest terms, to do as so many generations of Americans have done before them. This final action is in keeping with the highest traditions and professionalism of the U.S. armed forces, and the history of democratic transition in our great country,” they concluded.
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