All 10 Living Former SecDefs: Keep the Military Out of Election Dispute

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis listens to a question during his appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations, in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis listens to a question during his appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations, in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

In an unprecedented move, all 10 living former secretaries of defense attached their names to a strongly worded Washington Post op-ed Sunday, saying the military had no role in attempts by President Donald Trump to challenge and overturn the election results.

The former Pentagon chiefs, including retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis and the recently-fired Mark Esper, said in the piece that the elections were conducted fairly and the results have survived numerous court challenges alleging voter fraud -- despite Trump's repeated charges that the election was stolen from him.

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"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,'" the op-ed said, a possible reference to statements by Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley that service members take an oath to the Constitution, not an individual.

"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 group 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."

The op-ed was authored by Mattis, Esper, Dick Cheney, Leon Panetta, Donald Rumsfeld, William Cohen, Chuck Hagel, Robert Gates, William Perry and Ashton Carter.

Mattis resigned as defense secretary in December 2018 following Trump's surprise announcement of troop withdrawals from Syria; Esper, who opposed Trump on using active-duty troops to quell civil unrest, was fired by Trump in November.

Cohen, who served as SecDef from 1997 to 2001 in the Clinton administration, told CNN Sunday that he and his colleagues were prompted to write the op-ed out of concern that "the military will be used to overturn the election, possibly overturn the election."

We felt it incumbent on us" to speak out, he said. "It's unpatriotic what the president is trying to do."

In the op-ed, the group wrote that involving the military in election disputes would pull the nation into "dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory."

"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," it continued.

Congress is set to convene Wednesday to certify electoral college results showing Biden defeating Trump 306 to 232, the same margin by which Trump defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The certification session in the past has been a brief and perfunctory affair. But at least 11 Republican senators and a number of House Republicans have announced their intentions to challenge the results and call for an audit of the votes.

Their challenge is expected to fail, but the action will force all members of the House and Senate to record votes on whether they certify to the election results.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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