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All 10 living fmr. SECDEFs: Involving military in election disputes would be ‘dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional’

Then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speaks as President Donald Trump looks on during a White House coronavirus briefing (Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Sipa USA/TNS)
January 04, 2021

On Sunday, all 10 living former U.S. secretaries of defense wrote an op-ed warning against the military’s involvement in the election results, and urged a peaceful transition of power between the Trump administration and Joe Biden.

The op-ed, written by Mark Esper, James Mattis, Ashton Carter, Dick Cheney, William Cohen, Robert Gates, Chuck Hagel, Leon Panetta, William Perry and Donald Rumsfeld urged the military to remain uninvolved in resolving the U.S. election outcome, writing, “Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory.”

The former defense secretaries said any civilian or military leaders who try to involve the U.S. military in the election process “would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic.”

The warning about keeping the U.S. military out of the election process comes after reports alleged President Trump discussed invoking martial law to oversee a redo of the elections, a claim Trump has denied.

In their op-ed, the former defense secretaries stated that with the exception of the U.S. Civil War, there have been consistent peaceful transitions of power throughout U.S. history, as far back as 1789.

The former defense secretaries also said, “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 call by the former defense secretaries to stop questioning the election results comes ahead of the Jan. 6 U.S. Senate process to count and certify electoral college votes. On Saturday, Sens Ted Cruz (R-TX), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mike Braun (R-IN), Steve Daines (R-MT), John Kennedy (R-LA), James Lankford (R-OK) and senators-elect Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), and Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) announced they will object to the Jan. 6 electoral vote certification and are calling for a 10-day electoral commission to audit the election results.

Josh Hawley (R-MO) has also announced his intention to challenge the Senate electoral vote certification process in a separate move. Numerous House Republicans have also said they will challenge the election results.

The former defense secretaries warned that transitions of power often occur at times of international uncertainty and can occur when the nation’s defense are vulnerable and adversaries of the U.S. may seek to take advantage of that uncertainty.

“Given these factors, particularly at a time when U.S. forces are engaged in active operations around the world, it is all the more imperative that the transition at the Defense Department be carried out fully, cooperatively and transparently,” the former defense secretaries wrote.

The former defense secretaries said acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller and his subordinates must continue to facilitate the transition of the Biden administration and “refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder the success of the new team.”

On Sunday, Perry tweeted, “The idea for this statement actually originated from Vice President Cheney. Each of us swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution; that oath does not change according to party designation.”