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Mattis, Esper and other former defense chiefs call for a peaceful transition of power

Former Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis
James N. Mattis is among the former secretaries of Defense who have called for a peaceful transition of power.
(Franck Robichon / European Press)

All 10 living former U.S. defense secretaries called for a peaceful transition of power this month and warned that any effort to involve the military in resolving election disputes “would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory.”

Three days before Congress meets to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, the group, who served Democratic and Republican presidents, evoked the Civil War in a message to President Trump to concede defeat, though it didn’t name him.

Signers included James N. Mattis, who resigned as Trump’s defense secretary in 2018, and Mark Esper, whom Trump fired via tweet in November.

President Trump was recorded pressuring the top Georgia election official, Brad Raffensperger, to alter votes and throw him the election. Raffensperger refused.

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“American elections and the peaceful transfers of power that result are hallmarks of our democracy,” the group said in a Washington Post opinion piece. “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.”

While Trump has promoted unsubstantiated claims of major election fraud and egged on supporters who plan to rally Wednesday in Washington, the former defense leaders focused on calls in some circles to involve the military in overturning the results of the Nov. 3 presidential election. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, asserted last month that Trump has the power to rerun the election in swing states under military supervision.

“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 defense secretaries said.

They called on acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller and his subordinates to cooperate with the Biden transition team.

A bipartisan group of 10 senators has issued a statement calling for Congress to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s win.

“They must also refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder the success of the new team,” they said.

The other former defense chiefs backing the opinion piece are Ashton B. Carter, Dick Cheney, William Cohen, Robert Gates, Chuck Hagel, Leon Panetta, William Perry and Donald Rumsfeld.


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