More And More Former Military Leaders Are Calling Trump Out Over His Handling Of Protests And Nationwide Unrest
Former military leaders, some who served during this administration and some under previous ones, are speaking out against President Donald Trump and his team’s handling of the current crisis. More And More Former Military Leaders Are Calling Trump Out Over His Handling Of Protests And Nationwide Unrest
“I have to date been reticent to speak out on issues surrounding President Trump’s leadership, but we are at an inflection point, and the events of the past few weeks have made it impossible to remain silent,” said former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen.
The criticisms follow a presidential address calling for a strong military response to nationwide unrest and the forceful clearing of peaceful protesters from a DC park for a photo op.
Former military leaders, including some who have largely kept their thoughts on the president to themselves, have been speaking out this week against President Donald Trump and his administration’s handling of nationwide protests.
On Monday, Trump announced plans for a tough military crackdown on ongoing unrest. He then walked through Lafayette Park, which had been forcefully cleared of peaceful protesters moments earlier, to take photos holding a bible at a damaged church.
The controversial stunt followed a call with state leaders earlier in the day, during which Secretary of Defense Mark Esper referred to American cities as a “battle space,” one that both he and Trump urged governors to “dominate.”
For many former military leaders, the events of that day appear to have finally pushed them to speak out.
“The slide of the United States into illiberalism may well have begun on June 1, 2020. Remember the date. It may well signal the beginning of the end of the American experiment,” former US Forces-Afghanistan commander Gen. John Allen wrote in an article in Foreign Policy.
“To even the casual observer,” he wrote, “Monday was awful for the United States and its democracy.”
“I’ve fought in overseas wars,” he told CNN Thursday. “I never believed the constitution to be under threat until recently.”
“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” Jim Mattis, Trump’s former secretary of defense and a retired Marine Corps general, wrote in a statement that was first published in The Atlantic.
“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us,” he wrote, characterizing the president a threat to the Constitution.
Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, also a retired Marine Corps general, rushed to defend Mattis Thursday after Trump lashed out on Twitter, calling Mattis an “honorable man.”
Mattis is not the only former secretary of defense to speak out.
“I have watched in deep distress as events of the past week have unfolded, unraveling so many of the values that I hold dear as an American,” William Perry, former President Bill Clinton’s secretary of defense, said in a statement provided to POLITICO.
“I support the right of protesters to demonstrate peacefully, and deplore the suggestion that our military should be used to suppress them,” he said, stressing that the US military “was never intended to be used against American citizens.”
The day after Trump’s address, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen wrote “I cannot remain silent.”
Writing that Monday’s events “sickened” him, he said: “I have to date been reticent to speak out on issues surrounding President Trump’s leadership, but we are at an inflection point, and the events of the past few weeks have made it impossible to remain silent.”
Mullen said the president “laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country, gave succor to the leaders of other countries who take comfort in our domestic strife, and risked further politicizing the men and women of our armed forces.”
Mullen also criticized the characterization of American cities as battlespaces, as have other former military leaders.
Retired Gen. Raymond A. Thomas, former head of US Special Operations Command, expressed shock at hearing the term “battle space” used to describe US cities.
“The ‘battle space’ of America???” he wrote on Twitter this week. “Not what America needs to hear…ever, unless we are invaded by an adversary or experience a constitutional failure…ie a Civil War.”
Retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis, who served as the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, said that while it is necessary to restore order, “it hurt” to watch authorities forcefully confront peaceful protesters in DC.
He called on current leaders to keep the military “above the fray of domestic politics,” writing that “we cannot afford to have a future Lafayette Square end up looking like Tiananmen Square.”
Retired Navy Adm. William McRaven, the Navy SEAL who oversaw the Osama bin Laden raid, said Friday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that there was “nothing morally right” about forcefully clearing out protesters for a presidential photo op.
“That’s just not right,” he said. “You’re not going to use, whether it is the military or the National Guard or law enforcement, to clear peaceful American citizens for the president of the United States to do a photo op. There is nothing morally right about that.”
Retired Gen. Richard Myers, former President George Bush’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN Thursday that he is “glad” he does not have to advise Trump.
Commenting on the developments in DC on Monday, he said: “As I understand it, that was a peaceful protest that was disturbed by force, and that’s not right. That should not happen in America. And so I was sad. I mean, we should all shed tears over that particular act.”
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey tweeted this week that “America is not a battleground. Our fellow citizens are not the enemy.”
On Thursday, Dempsey told NPR that “the idea that the president would take charge of the situation using the military was troubling to me.”
“The idea,” he continued, “that the military would be called in to dominate and to suppress what, for the most part, were peaceful protests — admittedly, where some had opportunistically turned them violent — and that the military would somehow come in and calm that situation was very dangerous to me.”
Throughout his presidency, Trump has regularly surrounded himself with military leaders, often heaping praise on what he has called “my generals.”
Trump, who has not served in the military, has even suggested that he would have made a good general. But former military leaders are suggesting that he could do better as commander-in-chief.
Colin Powell Says Trump Rhetoric ‘Dangerous For Our Democracy,’ Will Vote For Biden
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell says that he will once again not vote for Donald Trump, calling the president’s approach to politics “dangerous for our democracy” and asserting that Trump has “drifted away” from the Constitution.
Powell publicly said he would vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and he plans to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden, who clinched the Democratic nomination last week, in November.
“I’m very close to Joe Biden in a social matter and on a political matter. I have worked with him for 35, 40 years,” Powell told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “And he is now the candidate, and I will be voting for him.”
Powell, a retired four-star Army general, joins a growing list of former senior military officials who have denounced Trump, including a wave of condemnation last week that was sparked by Trump’s walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church after National Guard members helped drive protesters from the area around the White House.
Trump’s former secretary of defense, retired Gen. Jim Mattis, said in a statement he was “appalled” by Trump’s handling of the protests that have followed the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer held him down with a knee on his neck.
“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people – does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us,” Mattis wrote.
Trump’s former chief of staff, retired Gen. John Kelly, said in an interview that he agreed with Mattis.
“I think we need to look harder at who we elect,” Kelly said. “I think we should look at people that are running for office and put them through the filter: What is their character like? What are their ethics?”
Retired Marine Corps four-star general John Allen, said the day Trump walked to the church, “may well signal the beginning of the end of the American experiment.”
Powell said he was happy to see the former military officials speaking out against the president.
“I’m proud that they were willing to take the risk of speaking honestly and speaking truth to those who are not speaking the truth,” he said.
“We have a Constitution. And we have to follow that Constitution. And the president has drifted away from it.”
Powell said he did not feel the need to issue a statement because he made his feeling about Trump clear four years ago when it became “clear that I could not possibly vote for this individual.”
“The first thing that troubled me is the whole birthers movement. And birthers movement had to do with the fact that the president of the United States, President Obama, was a black man. That was part of it,” Powell said of Trump’s denial that Obama was an American citizen in the face of evidence proving that he was.
“And then I was deeply troubled by the way in which he was going around insulting everybody, insulting Gold Star mothers, insulting John McCain, insulting immigrants –and I’m the son of immigrants – insulting anybody who dared to speak against him.
“And that is dangerous for our democracy. It is dangerous for our country. And I think what we’re seeing now, the most massive protest movement I have ever seen in my life, I think this suggests that the country is getting wise to this, and we’re not going to put up with it anymore.”
Powell added that Trump “lies,” a word “I never would have used with any of the four presidents I have worked for.”
“He lies about things. And he gets away with it because people will not hold him accountable,” Powell said.
In a tweet shortly after Powell’s interview aired, Trump said called Powell – the first African-American to serve as secretary of state and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff – “highly overrated” and touted his own accomplishments in office.
Last week, President George W. Bush said in a statement that is was crucial that the protesters be heard. And without mentioning Trump by name, denounced those who would try to silence them.
Condoleeza Rice, who served in Bush’s Cabinet along with Powell, declined Sunday to say on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” whether she planned to vote for Trump, but she said the president should “speak in the language of unity, the language of empathy.”
“You have to speak to every American, not just to those who might agree with you. And you have to speak about the deep wounds that we have and that we’re going to overcome them,” Rice said. “Leaders at this particular point need to do everything that they can to overcome, not intensify our divisions.”
House Democrats Seek Policing Overhaul Amid Widespread Protests
Legislation would make it easier to prosecute officers for misconduct, collect national data.
House Democrats unveiled a sweeping overhaul of policing laws Monday aimed at making it easier to prosecute officers for misconduct, collect national data and establish new training programs to counter racial bias in response to the protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd while in police custody.
The legislation assembled by the Congressional Black Caucus and backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) wraps together a flurry of bills endorsed by various lawmakers with a new focus on holding police officers accountable for misconduct. Both Republicans and Democrats have said Congress should respond to the public pressure from protesters demanding change after Mr. Floyd died in Minneapolis police custody on May 25.
“Today this moment of national anguish is being transformed into a movement of national action,” Mrs. Pelosi told reporters Monday. “We cannot settle for anything less than transformative, structural change.”
The House Democratic bill would make it easier to prosecute police officers accused of misconduct, according to Democratic aides. Currently federal prosecutors must establish that an officer not only used excessive force but also willfully violated a victim’s constitutional rights—meaning he knew what he was doing was against the law and acted anyway. The proposal would require prosecutors to establish that the officer had violated that right recklessly, instead of willfully.
“A profession where you have the power to kill should be a profession that requires highly trained officers who are accountable to the public,” Rep. Karen Bass (D., Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Monday.
It isn’t clear what path the bill would face in the GOP-led Senate. Senate Republicans have said they are open to discussing legislation governing police practices and improving law-enforcement relations with black communities. The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing on June 16 on Mr. Floyd’s death and its chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) has said he wants to look at “better policing methods.”
The House legislation would also allow citizens to collect some damages if their constitutional rights are found to be violated by police. That would curb the “qualified immunity” protection established by the Supreme Court that shields police and other government officials from legal liability for actions they take on the job. Both provisions are similar to legislation backed in the Senate by Democrats Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California.
House Democrats also hope to collect more data around when police officers use force and conduct traffic and pedestrian stops, body searches and frisking, as well as the demographics of the officers and civilians involved. They propose setting up a public national registry of police misconduct, maintained by the Justice Department, to include complaints against an officer, disciplinary actions and firing records, so that a problematic officer cannot simply leave one department and move quietly to another.
Certain controversial policing practices would be prohibited under House Democrats’ bill, including the use of chokeholds. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York introduced legislation in 2015 that would ban chokeholds. These holds are forbidden by many police departments but not by federal law.
In the killing of Mr. Floyd, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who faces second-degree murder charges, can be seen on video pressing his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Mr. Floyd cries that he can’t breathe and eventually loses consciousness.
The bill would also ban no-knock warrants in drug cases, which allow police to storm a residence without first announcing their presence.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, both Kentucky Republicans, called for the elimination of no-knock warrants last month after police killed Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black emergency-room technician, in her Louisville, Ky., home. The warrants have generated controversy in the U.S. for years, and some police departments have discontinued or restricted their use after raids went awry.
Use of no-knock warrants grew in the 1980s as part of the U.S. war on drugs. The Supreme Court has ruled that officers must knock and announce themselves before entering a private home to execute a search warrant. But the high court carved out exceptions including cases in which police believe they could face violence or if they think a suspect would destroy evidence if given notice.
House Democrats also said they would seek to put limits on a program enabling police agencies to receive surplus military equipment for no charge beyond the cost of shipping. President Trump reinstated the program in 2017, reversing former President Obama’s executive order in 2015 that barred police from getting tank-like armored vehicles and other military equipment. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R., Okla.) said last week he would oppose efforts to end the program.
In addition, House Democrats would incentivize states to implement better police-training programs aimed at eliminating racial bias and profiling, de-escalation techniques to avoid using force and other issues to improve officers’ communication with the public.
House Republicans have condemned the death of Mr. Floyd, but GOP leaders haven’t yet signaled if they will support Democratic legislation. Rep. Tom Reed (R., N.Y.), co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, said his group had spoken with Ms. Bass about the need to take action.
“We are joining in the protest, we are joining in the efforts to use George Floyd’s murder in a positive way,” Mr. Reed said in an interview.
Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of Senate GOP leadership, called on the Justice Department last week to resume the Obama-era practice of entering into consent decrees with police departments, which had been used to force departments to overhaul training on the use of deadly force and to change practices regarding treatment of minorities.
Generals Pull Support for Pentagon Nominee Tata Over Offensive Tweets
At least three prominent retired general officers dropped their support for President Trump’s nominee over inflammatory tweets he made two years ago on Islam, President Obama and Democratic lawmakers.
At least three prominent retired general officers have dropped their support for President Trump’s nominee for the Pentagon’s top policy job, retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata, over inflammatory tweets he made two years ago on Islam, President Obama and Democratic lawmakers.
“I now would not want him in that position,” said retired Army Gen. Joe Votel, who led U.S. Central Command until 2019, of Gen. Tata.
Gen. Votel was one of 35 former senior military officers, former State Department personnel and other former national security officials who had signed a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee in support of Gen. Tata’s nomination before the tweets had re-emerged.
The nomination would first need to be approved by the committee, where Republicans hold a single-seat majority, before a vote in the full Senate.
Democratic lawmakers have already expressed concern about Gen. Tata, and Sen. Jack Reed (D., R.I.), the ranking member on the committee, has said he won’t support Gen. Tata. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.), the panel’s chairman, said this week that reports of Gen. Tata’s statements had caught the committee’s attention.
“It’s gotten everyone’s attention,” said one Republican staffer.
The Pentagon didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. An administration official familiar with the situation said Gen. Tata “deeply regrets” the tweets and that they were “unprofessional.” The official said those represent a small percentage of thousands of Gen. Tata’s tweets and the ones in question had been “cherry picked” and taken out of context.
Gen. Votel and other signatories say they signed the endorsement letter before reports of Gen. Tata’s old tweets emerged, prompting them to reconsider their support.
In a series of remarks on Twitter, Gen. Tata called Islam “the most oppressive, violent religion” and referred to Mr. Obama as a “terrorist leader.” In a radio appearance, he falsely referred to Mr. Obama’s “Islamic roots,” according to CNN, which first reported his remarks June 12.
On May 20, 2018, Gen. Tata, in a twitter argument with former Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan, said Mr. Brennan should “pick your poison,” which he said could include sexual humiliation in prison or suicide by gunshot, a tweet that appeared to cross Twitter’s decency rules and was removed.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula said he was notifying Gen. Tata that he wanted his name removed from the letter.
“I was not aware of Brig. Gen. Tata’s comments about President Obama and others,” Gen. Deptula said late Wednesday. “People have the right to disagree with elected officials but I don’t condone disrespect of any duly elected president.”
Retired Gen. Tony Thomas, the former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command until his retirement last year, also signed the letter. But in an email Thursday he said he was withdrawing his support for Gen. Tata.
Gen. Tata is a retired one-star Army general with extensive combat experience and numerous decorations. He has extensive defense consulting experience, and is the former North Carolina secretary of transportation and the former superintendent of the Wake County, N.C., public schools. He is a vocal supporter of Mr. Trump and a regular guest on Fox News. He currently serves in a senior advisory role to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and has an office on the Pentagon’s E-Ring across the hall from Mr. Esper’s office suite.
The White House formally nominated him June 10, and the endorsement letter was dated June 12. Gen. Tata would replace John Rood, who resigned at Mr. Trump’s request in February. Mr. Rood had pushed back on efforts to withhold military aid to Ukraine.
The role for which he was nominated, undersecretary for defense for policy, is the no. 3 job at the Pentagon, managing policy decisions on everything from Afghanistan and the Middle East to China, North Korea and Russia, as well as artificial intelligence, hypersonic weapons and more. He could be next in the line of succession if the secretary of defense and the deputy resigned or were removed.
Retired Gen. Wes Clark, the former commander of NATO and a former Democratic presidential contender, said Gen. Tata was “bright, responsive and highly effective” as a company commander when he knew him in uniform.
But Gen. Clark said Gen. Tata would have to explain himself to lawmakers and make amends.
“If he is going to be confirmed, and he is going to be effective, he’s going to have to go into those democratic senators and apologize for what he said,” Mr. Clark told The Wall Street Journal. “He is going to have to convince them that he is mature enough, responsible enough and nonpartisan enough to be trusted in that position.”
Asked if he would sign the letter today, Gen. Clark said, “Not without a long discussion with him first, and I don’t know that he could persuade me.”
The three-page letter to the Armed Service Committee is effusive in its praise for Gen. Tata.
“Rest assured that Tony will always put his country first,” according to a copy of the letter reviewed by The Journal. “We recommend him unreservedly.”
In an interview, Gen. Votel said Gen. Tata approached him to solicit support for his nomination. Gen. Votel, who said he knew Gen. Tata in uniform and regarded him well, was happy to support the retired general. But he recently learned of all of the things Gen. Tata had tweeted and now regrets his support.
“I was disappointed when I saw that, that’s not something I would have aligned myself with,” Gen. Votel said. “It certainly does not reflect my values.”