10 Former Defense Secretaries Warn Against Military Intervention as Trump Supporters Seek To Block Election Certification

January 6, 2021Ethan E. Rocke
former Secretaries of Defense Jim Mattis and Chuck Hagel, op-ed on election certification

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel attend the unveiling ceremony for Hagel’s official portrait at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., May 19, 2017. Hagel served as the 24th Secretary of Defense from February 2013 to February 2015. (DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

The day after a recording emerged of President Donald Trump urging Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to “find” enough votes to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, The Washington Post published an unprecedented op-ed penned by all 10 living former secretaries of defense that called on Pentagon officials “to facilitate the entry into office of the incoming administration” and “refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election.”

“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,” they wrote. “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.”

Biden won 306 electoral college votes to Trump’s 232 and also won the popular vote by a margin of 7 million votes. Congress is set to convene Wednesday to certify the Electoral College results — the final formal step in cementing Biden’s victory. 

former Secretaries of Defense Jim Mattis and Chuck Hagel, op-ed on election certification
Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, right, shares a laugh with former Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis after the US Central Command change of command ceremony March 22, 2013, at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo/DOD.

A dozen Senate Republicans announced Saturday they will challenge Biden’s election victory when Congress gathers. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) championed the move to vote against certification unless there’s an election audit, and as many as 140 Republicans in the House have indicated they may also vote against certifying Biden’s Electoral College win. 

The effort, which is opposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), drew harsh condemnation from other Senate Republicans and is expected to fail.  

“The congressional power to reject electors is reserved for the most extreme and unusual circumstances. These are far from it,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said in a statement that sharply rebuked the effort. “More Americans participated in this election than ever before, and they made their choice. President Trump’s lawyers made their case before scores of courts; in every instance, they failed. The Justice Department found no evidence of irregularity sufficient to overturn the election. The Presidential Voter Fraud Commission disbanded without finding such evidence. […] Members of Congress who would substitute their own partisan judgement for that of the courts do not enhance public trust, they imperil it.” 

former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper
Former Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper records a statement for a virtual A.I. Symposium in the Pentagon Briefing Room Sept. 8, 2020. Photo by Marvin Lynchard/DOD.

Dozens of lawsuits brought by President Trump and his allies to challenge the election results have failed in court. Attorney General William P. Barr said Dec. 1 that the Justice Department has been investigating complaints, but “to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election.” Barr resigned two weeks later amid conflicting reports about the president’s feelings toward him. 

A federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed by East Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert that aimed to give Vice President Mike Pence the power to overturn the results of the presidential election.

“Bottom line is, the court is saying, ‘We’re not going to touch this, you have no remedy,’” Gohmert told Newsmax after the decision was announced. “Basically, in effect, the ruling would be that you’ve got to go to the streets and be as violent as antifa and BLM.”

At the “Million MAGA March” near the White House in November, Gohmert urged the president’s supporters to consider “revolution,” pointing to the popular Egyptian uprising that ended with a coup that unseated Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.    

“They rose up though all over Egypt, and as a result of the people rising up in the greatest numbers in history, ever anywhere, they turned the country around,” Gohmert told thousands of cheering supporters. “If they can do that there, think of what we can do here.” 

Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Mark Milley
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley said in October, “There’s no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of a U.S. election.” Photo by Lisa Ferdinando/DOD.

Steven Bucci, a visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation who served for three decades as a US Army Special Forces officer, told Coffee or Die Magazine in an email that “the American people should not worry about a coup.”   

“The press has painted the legal challenges to the election results as unprecedented, even raising the issues of a coup, which no one with any authority has suggested,” Bucci wrote. 

Some of the president’s supporters are holding a “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington to coincide with Wednesday’s vote, and the National Park Service is expecting up to 30,000 people to attend, including far-right groups such as the Proud Boys. 

The National Guard has been mobilized for the event, which has already drawn large numbers of demonstrators to the capital in hopes of bolstering the effort to block certification of the election results. Every city police officer is on duty today and tomorrow for the protest, which Mayor Muriel E. Bowser said may include people looking to instigate violence. The president has been promoting the protest on Twitter and urging his supporters to attend. 

In a video interview posted by The Hill on Twitter today, Trump supporters in Georgia said they will not accept Biden as president, suggesting that “a civil war” could keep Trump in power.  

The Washington Post op-ed was authored by James Mattis, Mark Esper, Dick Cheney, Leon Panetta, Donald Rumsfeld, William Cohen, Chuck Hagel, Robert Gates, William Perry, and Ashton Carter. Cohen, who served as defense secretary in the Clinton administration, told CNN Sunday that he and his colleagues published the op-ed out of concern that “the military will be used to overturn the election.”

“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 former secretaries wrote. 

Bucci said the op-ed was “an unnecessary act with questionable need and validity,” but he believes the former defense secretaries are correct in their assertion that the military should not intervene.

“We have ample avenues to deal with any issue,” Bucci said. “No, the American people should not worry about a coup. Military leaders swear allegiance to the Constitution, not any office holder. […] [Acting Defense Secretary] Chris Miller used to work for me; he has laid his life on the line to protect the Constitution. He will not condone anyone threatening it now.”

The Office of the Secretary of Defense declined to comment via email on the op-ed and the administration’s efforts to overturn the election. But in a phone call, a duty officer at OSD directed Coffee or Die to a quote from an October interview with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, which was cited in the op-ed: “There’s no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of a U.S. election. Zero. There is no role there.”

Ethan E. Rocke
Ethan E. Rocke

Ethan E. Rocke is a contributor and former senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine, a New York Times bestselling author, and award-winning photographer and filmmaker. He is a veteran of the US Army and Marine Corps. His work has been published in Maxim Magazine, American Legion Magazine, and many others. He is co-author of The Last Punisher: A SEAL Team THREE Sniper’s True Account of the Battle of Ramadi.

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