Retired Marine general James Mattis, who resigned as President Trump’s Secretary of Defense in 2018, broke his silence on the administration in a statement Wednesday, saying he was “angry and appalled” by Trump’s response to national unrest after the death of George Floyd.
Mattis, who clashed with Trump’s over the initial decision to withdraw American troops from Syria, told the Atlantic that Trump was “distracting” from the nation’s protests against police by blaming unrest on far-left groups, and slammed the president’s decision to visit the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church moments after federal police had pushed back protestors from Lafayette Square, calling it an “abuse of executive authority.”
“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” Mattis said. “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.”
The White House was heavily criticized for Trump’s visit to the church — which had been set on fire by rioters on Sunday night — with D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser calling it a “shameful” decision for federal police to use “munitions” to clear protestors. The Trump administration has pushed back on claims that the police were ordered to advance with the knowledge Trump would visit the church, where he held a Bible for several minutes in front of the cameras and promised to protect the country.
The former defense secretary added that Trump is “the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people.”
“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,” Mattis wrote. “We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.”
Trump said in January 2019 that he had “essentially” fired Mattis after he resigned in December 2018, and criticized his former Defense Secretary for not doing “too good” in respect to the administration’s policy on Afghanistan.
Mattis wrote a book that was published last year, in which he refrained from criticizing Trump. Mattis told the Atlantic in October 2019 that “when you leave an administration over clear policy differences, you need to give the people who are still there as much opportunity as possible to defend the country,” but promised not to make his silence “eternal.”