President Trump’s former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who resigned last year, spoke out against his ex-boss for the first time Wednesday, saying he is “angry and appalled” at the White House’s response to the protests over the death of George Floyd.
“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” Mattis said in a statement emailed to reporters. “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.”
He continued: “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. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”
The statement by Mattis, who when he was appointed was lauded by Trump for his toughness and as one of “my generals,” was remarkable in part because, until now, he has studiously avoided any direct criticism of his former commander in chief. But Mattis in his statement made it clear that the president’s attempted crackdown on protesters was his breaking point.
Mattis began with a ringing defense of the right of the demonstrators to protest, saying they were “people of conscience” who were fulfilling the values of the country.
“The words ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court,” Mattis wrote. “This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand — one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. 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.”
He then decried the idea of using military force to police disturbances in American cities.
“We must reject any thinking of our cities as a ‘battlespace’ that our uniformed military is called upon to dominate,’” Mattis wrote, a reference to the call by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper for governors to “dominate the battle space” in the face of demonstrations. “At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. 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. Keeping public order rests with civilian state and local leaders who best understand their communities and are answerable to them.”
Not long after, Trump replied with a tweet saying that he never liked Mattis in the first place: