Keep the military out of it, Trump tells former defense secretaries

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An extraordinary letter urges the president-elect to recognize the election victory of Joe Biden despite growing fears about his conduct

All 10 former U.S. defense secretaries alive, including two who served for Donald Trump, called on the president and his backers to acknowledge his election loss and cautioned against efforts to involve the military in his increasingly desperate attempts to reverse the result.

The defense officials discussed the worst questions about what could happen in the remaining 17 days of Trump’s presidency before Joe Biden is inaugurated in an extraordinary joint letter published in The Washington Post: an effort by Trump to foment a crisis aimed at causing military action in his last-ditch fight to hold on to power.

The letter says, “Efforts to involve U.S. forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful, and unconstitutional territory,”

“Civilian and military officials who order or carry out such actions would be held accountable for the grave consequences of their actions to our Republic, including possible criminal penalties.”
James Mattis and Mark Esper, both of whom served in the Trump administration as defense secretaries, were among the signatories. In June, Esper explicitly contradicted Trump, insisting there were no reasons for invoking the Rebellion Act, which in exceptional situations authorizes the use of U.S. troops on American roads.

Also signed by Dick Cheney, George HW Bush’s defense secretary and his son’s vice president, George W. Bush, and Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s younger administration’s defense secretary. William Perry and William Cohen, the defense secretaries in the administration of Bill Clinton, were the other signatories; Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel and Ashton Carter, who served under Barack Obama; and Robert Gates, who served under both the younger Bush and Obama.

“Transitions, which we have all experienced, are a critical part of a successful transfer of power. They often occur during times of international uncertainty about U.S. national security policy and posture,” “They can be a moment when the nation is vulnerable to actions by adversaries seeking to exploit the situation.”
They encouraged current Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller and his officials to resume collaboration with the transition team of Biden, which had complained that its briefings had been cut off and that its demands had been stopped by the Pentagon.

Eric Edelman, a former U.S. ambassador and defense official, was quoted by the Washington Post as saying that the source of the extraordinary letter was a discussion he had with Cheney about how the army might be deployed in the coming days.

There are questions about chaos on Wednesday as a dozen Republican senators announce they are going to contest the regular routine approval of the Electoral College outcome by Congress.

Trump urged his followers to rally in Washington, tweeting, “Be there, it’s going to get wild!” It is anticipated that the far-right Proud Boys would be among the pro-Trump crowd in the capital of the country.

Cohen told the Post that he was worried about the mention of the possibility of martial law by former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn, especially after Trump’s use of the military and other federal forces to evict demonstrators outside the White House in June.

Cohen said, “It’s a very dangerous course of action that needs to be called out before it happens,”

“[It’s] so important that the nation’s defense officials send this message,” wrote Risa Brooks, a Marquette University associate professor who studies civil-military relations and political conflict. “The civilians who run the military need to be at the forefront of getting this message out to the public, not leaving it to the military alone.”

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