The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has assured congressional leaders that the military will not interfere in the upcoming presidential election.
“I foresee no role for the U.S armed forces in this process,” Gen. Mark Milley stated in written responses released Friday to questions from two Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee.
The mere fact that the question was raised was extraordinary. President Donald Trump has repeatedly insisted without any basis in fact that the Nov. 3 election will be “rigged” and “corrupt,” sparking unprecedented fears that he may refuse to leave office if he loses. The president serves as commander in chief of the American military, making him the last word in military orders.
“I believe deeply in the principle of an apolitical U.S. military,” Milley said in his response to Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin and New Jersey Rep. Mikie Sherrill.
“In the event of a dispute over some aspect of the elections, by law U.S. courts and the U.S. Congress are required to resolve any disputes, not the U.S. military ... We will not turn our backs on the Constitution of the United States.”
Asked if the military would refuse an order from the president if Trump was attempting to use military action for political gain rather than for national security, Milley responded: “I will not follow an unlawful order.”
Milley placed himself in a strange position in June when he appeared in his military fatigues to accompany Trump as the president walked across Lafayette Square from the White House to hold aloft a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo op. Meanwhile, to make way for Trump, federal officers were manhandling and spraying tear gas at peaceful protesters exercising their First Amendment rights.
Former Defense Secretary James Mattis condemned the Trump stunt in a searing statement in The Atlantic. “I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” he wrote. “Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered ... 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.”
Milley later apologized for his appearance with Trump that evening, calling it a “mistake.”
“I should not have been there,” Milley said in remarks to a National Defense University commencement ceremony. “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
Slotkin noted that the queries to Milley were “prudent,” given the “things that the president has been saying publicly” about the election — and Trump’s threat to station law enforcement officers at polling places.
Milley’s answers, she said, “demonstrated that the chairman recognized the military’s role in our elections is to essentially stay out; that the military’s role in the peaceful transition of power is to stay out.”