Every living former secretary of defense, including two who served under President Donald Trump, signed an extraordinary rebuke of efforts to undermine the results of the 2020 election as the White House and many congressional Republicans prepare to contest the certification of the Electoral College vote on Wednesday.
In a stern opinion piece published in The Washington Post, the bipartisan group of officials, who have served under every president since George H.W. Bush, said it is time for the nation to move on or risk instability and encourage “adversaries seeking to take advantage of the situation.”
“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 group wrote. “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.”
The comments were authored by Ashton Carter, Dick Cheney, William Cohen, Mark Esper, Robert Gates, Chuck Hagel, James Mattis, Leon Panetta, William Perry and Donald Rumsfeld. Two of those men, Esper and Mattis, served in the Trump administration.
The letter comes just days before Congress will vote to certify the Electoral College count and officially name Joe Biden the winner of the presidential election. The officials also issued a terse warning that the military should serve no role in changing the outcome of the election.
“Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory,” they wrote. “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.”
But dozens of Trump’s GOP allies have declared that the process will not go ahead as smoothly as before, in an unprecedented assault on the will of the people after a bevy of failed lawsuits, recounts and public grumbling found zero evidence to back up lies about voter fraud denying the president a second term.
At least 11 Republican senators and senators-elect, led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, have said they will challenge the certification. Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert said around 140 House Republicans plan to object as well.
The president has refused to concede to Biden and has continued to try to reverse the election. On Sunday, the Post published audio of a call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, in which the president urged the official to recalculate the state’s vote tally in his favor and overturn Biden’s win in that state.
Raffensperger told Trump that his data claims were “wrong” and pushed back on his requests.
Regarding the opinion piece on Sunday, Hagel, a Republican who served as defense secretary under President Barack Obama, told the Post in an interview that he weighed whether to sign on and considered whether the opinion piece was an “overreaction” to an outcome many say is unlikely at best.
“This is a fundamental element of our democracy, and it lands squarely in the responsibilities of defense officials,” Hagel said. “I thought, in the end, that this was something that was important that we do.”