10 former Defense secretaries call on Pentagon to stay out of election fight

The 10 living former Pentagon chiefs called on President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel plans to subpoena Trump lawyer who advised on how to overturn election Texans chairman apologizes for 'China virus' remark Biden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day MORE’s Department of Defense to refrain from impeding the transition of power to President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day Business lobby calls for administration to 'pump the brakes' on vaccine mandate Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Afghanistan reckoning shows no signs of stopping MORE’s administration in a Sunday op-ed.

The former Defense secretaries, including the Trump administration’s James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security MORE and Mark EsperMark EsperThree key behind-the-scenes figures in Jan. 6 probe Trump Defense chief blocked idea to send 250,000 troops to border: report Overnight Defense & National Security — Afghanistan concerns center stage with G-20 MORE, said in a Washington Post op-ed that the election is over and that the Pentagon’s leaders are not sworn to protect “an individual or a party.” They cited October comments from Army Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyFormer envoy: U.S. 'did not succeed' in building democratic Afghanistan Poll: New Hampshire Senate race tight Republicans would need a promotion to be 'paper tigers' MORE that “there’s no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of a U.S. election.”

“Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory,” the former leaders said. “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.”

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The former Defense secretaries wrote the Pentagon’s current officials needed to protect their “oath, law and precedent to facilitate the entry into office of the incoming administration.” 

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

“We call upon them, in the strongest terms, to do as so many generations of Americans have done before them,” the op-ed continued. “This final action is in keeping with the highest traditions and professionalism of the U.S. armed forces, and the history of democratic transition in our great country.”

Besides Esper and Mattis, the op-ed's authors included former secretaries Ashton Carter, Dick Cheney, William Cohen, Robert Gates, Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelInterpreter who helped rescue Biden in 2008 escapes Afghanistan Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security MORE, Leon Panetta, William Perry and Donald Rumsfeld.

The op-ed was published as several lawmakers in the House and Senate plan to contest the Electoral College vote on Wednesday in the hopes that Congress will back the objections and send the matter to the mostly Republican state legislatures. 

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The effort will almost certainly be fruitless as Democrats control the House and several Republicans and party leaders in the Senate have spoken out against the move. 

The Defense secretaries' call on Pentagon leadership also comes after Biden and his advisers have raised concerns that officials at the Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget are declining to hold meetings or respond to information requests amid the transition. 

“Make no mistake, this lack of cooperation has real world consequences, most concerningly as it relates to national security,” Yohannes Abraham, executive director of the Biden-Harris transition, said last week. “This intentionally generated paucity makes it harder for our government to protect the American people moving forward.”

The president-elect himself addressed the tension last Monday, calling the delays “nothing short … of irresponsibility.” 

The Pentagon countered the transition team’s accusations, noting they have provided more than 5,000 pages of classified information, answered 188 requests for information and completed 164 interviews with more than 400 officials in the past month.

“DoD’s efforts already surpass those of recent administrations with over three weeks to go and we continue to schedule additional meetings for the remainder of the transition and answer any and all requests for information in our purview,” acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said in a statement last week.