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All 10 Living Former Defense Secretaries Declare Election Is Over In Joint Letter

The 10 living former US defense secretaries also urged against military involvement in election matters.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney (L) and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld attend a commissioning ceremony on board the USS Gerald R. Ford CVN 78, on July 22, 2017 in Norfolk, Virginia. | Getty Images
Former Vice President Dick Cheney (L) and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld attend a commissioning ceremony on board the USS Gerald R. Ford CVN 78, on July 22, 2017 in Norfolk, Virginia. | Getty Images

In a public letter published in The Washington Post on Sunday, all 10 living former U.S. defense secretaries — including those who worked under the Trump administration— issued a bipartisan stance against using the military to overturn and undermine the 2020 presidential election results.

Dick Cheney, James Mattis, Mark Esper, Leon Panetta, Donald Rumsfeld, William Cohen, Chuck Hagel, Robert Gates, William Perry and Ashton Carter urged in the joint letter that the election is over, as President Donald Trump and other Republicans have continually touted unfounded claims of voter fraud behind President-Elect Joe Biden's victory.

“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 letter stated. “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 top U.S. military officer, Gen. Mark Milley, assured Congress in August 2020 that the military would not become involved in election matters, the former defense secretaries reiterated in the letter that “there’s no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of a U.S. election.” They added that, “efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory.”

The joint letter comes as several current and incoming Senate Republicans plan to reject “electors from disputed states” during Electoral College counting on Wednesday — a move that many have pointed out would only delay and draw out the inevitable Congressional certification of his win. 

The senators’ plan has received criticism from Democrats as well as other Republican lawmakers — including former House Speaker Paul Ryan, who in a Sunday statement said, “It is difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) called the plan “selfish” and “pathetic,” while Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) tweeted that it would “undermine faith in our elections' security and sanctity and represent everything our country’s Founders warned against.”

Perry wrote on Twitter that Cheney first expressed interest in authoring the statement. Eric Edelman, a former U.S. ambassador and defense official, told The Washington Post that after talking with Cheney about the idea, he then garnered support and participation from the other former defense secretaries and drafted the letter with Eliot Cohen, a former Republican national security official.

“I do think that once one signs, another might be more willing to sign. But I still think it’s pretty remarkable,” Cohen said. “This is a fairly gutsy thing to do, and I give them a lot of credit for it.”

Trump fired Esper in November — his first high-profile dismissal since news outlets declared Biden the winner of the election. The two had been at odds since June, when the now-former secretary voiced his opposition to the use of active-duty federal forces to combat citizens protesting police violence.