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June 4, 2020, 8:13 a.m. EDT

Mattis breaks silence, harshly condemns Trump’s actions: ‘He tries to divide us’

‘We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership,’ former defense secretary says

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By Mike Murphy


Reuters
Then–Defense Secretary James Mattis listens as President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in October 2018.

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis has kept his thoughts on President Donald Trump largely to himself since he resigned in December 2018. Until Wednesday, that is, when he unloaded on the president in a scathing public statement:

‘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.’

James Mattis

The retired Marine general said he’s “angry and appalled” by what he’s seen this week, as Trump has threatened a military crackdown on protests across the nation.

“The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values — our values as people and our values as a nation,” Mattis said. “Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict — a false conflict — between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part.

“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens — much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”

Mattis said that rather than being a uniter, Trump is actively trying to divide the country.

“We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort,” he said. “We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.

“We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution. At the same time, we must remember Lincoln’s ‘better angels,’ and listen to them, as we work to unite.”

Mattis is just the latest former military official to speak up in recent days. On Tuesday, retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote an op-ed in The Atlantic saying Trump’s actions have made it “impossible to remain silent.”

Mullen said he was “sickened” by the aggressive clearing of peaceful protesters outside the White House on Monday so Trump could have a photo op at a church across the street. “Whatever Trump’s goal in conducting his visit, he 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,” he wrote.

Also Tuesday, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James N. Miller resigned his position from the Defense Science Board in a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper that was published by the Washington Post . Miller said Trump’s actions crossed a dangerous line, and questioned how far Esper was willing to follow.

“You must have thought long and hard about where that line should be drawn. I must now ask: If last night’s blatant violations do not cross the line for you, what will?” he wrote.

Read: Defense Secretary Esper breaks with Trump over invoking Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty military to rein in demonstrations

“Unfortunately, it appears there may be few if any lines that President Trump is not willing to cross, so you will probably be faced with this terrible question again in the coming days. You may be asked to take, or to direct the men and women serving in the U.S. military to take, actions that further undermine the Constitution and harm Americans. ... Where will you draw the line, and when will you draw it?”

Read on: Pelosi calls on Trump to be a healer-in-chief and not a fanner of the flames of division and unrest

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