'He lies all the time': US military leaders speak out
Another high profile military leader in the United States has come out against President Donald Trump over his handling of the protests against racial discrimination and police brutality across the country.
Retired four-star army general Colin Powell, a registered Republican, served as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff under presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, then as secretary of state under president George W. Bush.
Speaking to CNN today, Gen Powell added his voice to the growing chorus of criticism against Mr Trump from high profile generals and admirals.
That long list of military brass now includes Mr Trump's former secretary of defence, General James Mattis; the President's former White House chief of staff, General John Kelly; the former commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen; the former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen; another former chairman, General Richard Myers; the former boss of US Special Operations Command, Admiral William McRaven; former CIA director General Mike Hayden; and the former supreme allied commander of NATO, Admiral James Stavridis.
Gen Powell went further than most of them, saying he could not possibly vote to re-elect Mr Trump later this year, even though the President is a member of his own party.
Instead, he will vote for the Democratic Party's nominee, former vice president Joe Biden.
When he appeared on CNN, Gen Powell was first asked about the criticism of Mr Trump from Gen Allen, who wrote an article for Foreign Policy last week after peaceful protesters were cleared out of Lafayette Park, near the White House, to make way for a presidential photo op.
The article also followed a controversial speech in which Mr Trump threatened to bring in the military to stamp out riots.
"Monday was awful for the United States and its democracy," Gen Allen said.
"The President's speech was calculated to project his abject and arbitrary power, but he failed to project any of the higher emotions or leadership desperately needed in every quarter of this nation during this dire moment."
He said the day of the speech, June 1, may well have marked "the beginning of the end of the American experiment" and the country's "slide into illiberalism".
Gen Powell was supportive of Gen Allen's view.
"I'm very happy with what General Allen said, and what all the other generals, admirals are saying, and diplomats are saying. We have a Constitution. And we have to follow that Constitution," he said.
"The President has drifted away from it. I'm so proud of what these generals and admirals have done and others have done."
Gen Powell admitted he was never a fan of Mr Trump to begin with, citing the President's leading role in promoting the birther conspiracy theory about former president Barack Obama, and the personal insults he had launched against everyone from the late Republican senator John McCain to the family of a fallen soldier.
He suggested the current protest movement sweeping the country - the biggest he had seen in his life - was a sign Americans were "getting wise" to Mr Trump and were "not going to put up with it anymore".
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell: "We have a Constitution and we have to follow that Constitution and the President has drifted away from it" pic.twitter.com/MI1gWBBqUI— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) June 7, 2020
"I mean, look at what he has done to divide us. 'Forget immigrants, let's put up a fence in Mexico. Forget this, let's do this.' He is insulting us throughout the world. He is being offensive to our allies. He's not taking into account what our foreign policy is and how it is being affected by his actions," Gen Powell said.
"So yes, I agree with General Allen. I agree with all of my former colleagues."
He accused Mr Trump of frequently twisting the truth or simply making things up.
"The one word I have to use with respect to what he's been doing for the last several years is a word I would never have used before, I never would have used with any of the four presidents I have worked for," he said.
"He lies. He lies about things. And he gets away with it, because people will not hold him accountable.
"He lies all the time. He began lying the day of inauguration, when we got into an argument about the size of the crowd that was there. People are writing books about his favourite thing of lying.
"We're not a country of just the President. We have a Congress. We have a Supreme Court. But most of all, we have the people of the United States, the ones who vote, the ones who vote him in and the ones who vote him out.
"I couldn't vote for him in 2016, and I certainly cannot in any way support President Trump this year.
"I'm very close to Joe Biden in a social matter and on a political matter. I have worked with him for 35, 40 years. And he is now the candidate, and I will be voting for him."
Mr Trump, as is his habit, reacted on Twitter, calling Gen Powell "a real stiff" and "highly overrated". He also pointed out Gen Powell's role in starting the Iraq War based on the false accusation that Saddam Hussein's regime had weapons of mass destruction.
Twelve hours after that initial response, the President came back for a second bite, labelling Gen Powell's interview "pathetic".
Colin Powell, a real stiff who was very responsible for getting us into the disastrous Middle East Wars, just announced he will be voting for another stiff, Sleepy Joe Biden. Didn’t Powell say that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction?” They didn’t, but off we went to WAR!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 7, 2020
As we mentioned earlier, Gen Powell is merely the latest military leader to slam Mr Trump.
Last week Gen Mattis, who had mostly refrained from criticising the President since leaving the Trump administration in early 2019, eviscerated him over his handling of the protests.
"I have watched this week's unfolding events, angry and appalled," he said in a scathing statement to The Atlantic.
"The words 'Equal Justice Under Law' are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding.
"We must not be distracted by a small number of law-breakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values."
Gen Mattis appeared to have been riled up by the authorities' use of force to clear out demonstrators near the White House, which allowed Mr Trump to emerge and pose for photographs in front of St John's church.
"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," Gen Mattis said.
"We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.
"We can (be) united 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.
"We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution."
Mr Trump responded by calling him "the world's most overrated general" - an insult he echoed in his reaction to Gen Powell today. And he said it had been an "honour" to fire the former defence secretary.
...His primary strength was not military, but rather personal public relations. I gave him a new life, things to do, and battles to win, but he seldom “brought home the bacon”. I didn’t like his “leadership” style or much else about him, and many others agree. Glad he is gone!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 4, 2020
Gen Mattis immediately found support from another former Trump administration official, Gen Kelly, who pointed out that Mr Trump did not, in fact, fire Gen Mattis.
"The President did not fire him. He did not ask for his resignation. The President has clearly forgotten how it actually happened, or is confused," said Gen Kelly, calling Gen Mattis "an honourable man".
Later, during a video interview with former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, Gen Kelly doubled down on his support for Gen Mattis.
"I agree with him," he said.
"There is a concern, I think an awful big concern, that the partisanship has gotten out of hand; the tribal thing has gotten out of hand.
"He's quite a man, Jim Mattis, and for him to do that tells you where he is relative to the concern he has for our country."
Another half-dozen military leaders have also joined the list of presidential critics.
"It sickened me yesterday to see security personnel, including members of the National Guard, forcibly and violently clear a path through Lafayette Square to accommodate the President's visit," Adm Mullen wrote in a piece for The Atlantic on June 2.
"I have to date been reticent to speak out on issues surrounding President Trump's leadership, but we are at an inflection point, and the vents of the past few weeks have made it impossible to remain silent.
"He laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country, gave succour to the leaders of other countries who take comfort in our domestic strife, and risked further politicising the men and women of our armed forces."
Gen Myers said it was "not right" that peaceful protesters were disrupted using force, and the incident had made him feel "absolute sadness".
"That should not happen in America. And so I was sad. I mean, we should all shed tears over that particular act," he told CNN.
"I'm glad I don't have to advise this President. I'm sure the senior military leadership is finding it really difficult these days to provide good, sound military advice."
Adm Stavridis wrote an article for Time, stressing that active duty military "must remain above the fray of domestic politics".
"Our senior active duty military leaders must make that case forcefully and directly to national leadership, speaking truth to power in uncomfortable ways," said the former supreme allied commander of NATO.
"They must do this at the risk of their career. I hope they will do so, and not allow the military to be dragged into the maelstrom that is ahead of us, and which will likely only accelerate between now and November."
In an interview with MSNBC, Adm McRaven said there was "nothing morally right" about the clearing out of protesters.
Gen Hayden, who was already a frequent critic of Mr Trump, said he was particularly "appalled" that the current chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Mark Milley, had joined the President for his photo op in his full uniform.
And Gen Dempsey told NPR it was "troubling" that Mr Trump would consider "using the military" to crack down on protesters.
Today Fox News' widely respected national security correspondent Jennifer Griffen reported it was "extremely unusual" for Gen Kelly, Gen Mattis and their colleagues to have spoken out in such numbers.
"There's been a lot of soul-searching here at the Pentagon at the highest levels among active duty four-star generals and others about how to handle this week's actions by the President, and the threat to use the military in the street against protesters," Griffen said.
"It really shows how very deeply concerned the top levels of the military are. And in some ways, they gave cover to other retired four-star generals, respected four-star generals, to come out and say much the same.
"In my 13 years here, I've never seen so many former or current members of the military speak up against a sitting president."
Mr Obama's former political adviser David Axelrod echoed her assessment, saying the level of public opposition to Mr Trump among military leaders was "unprecedented".
Powell; Mullen; Dempsey-three former chairs of the Joint Chiefs of Staff-have rebuked the @POTUS. So have Generals Mattes and Allen. America’s most highly respected former military leaders are speaking out.— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) June 7, 2020
This is unprecedented.
Gen Powell's decision to support Mr Biden is not particularly surprising - despite being a Republican, he has previously voted for Barack Obama, and openly chose Hillary Clinton over Mr Trump four years ago.
But the criticism of Mr Trump from such a large number of military leaders at once could influence the election. The former generals and admirals are deeply respected among the armed forces, whose voters usually lean Republican, but could be swayed.
A poll conducted by The Military Times late last year found 42 per cent of US troops approved of Mr Trump's performance, and 50 per cent disapproved.
By contrast, the 2017 iteration of the poll found 84 per cent had a favourable few of Gen Mattis.
There is also some criticism of Mr Trump within the Republican Party, though few party officials have rebuked him publicly.
Over the weekend, The New York Times reported former president George W. Bush "won't support" Mr Trump's re-election, and his brother Jeb Bush remains uncertain how he will vote.
Senator Mitt Romney - the only Republican in Congress who voted in favour of Mr Trump's impeachment earlier this year - will not support the President either. Mr Romney was the party's presidential nominee in 2012.
Former Republican House speakers Paul Ryan and John Boehner are refusing to say whether they will vote for Mr Trump.
The Times also mentioned a few lesser known Republican politicians, such as Senator Lisa Murkowski and Congressman Francis Rooney, who are considering casting ballots against their own President.
And former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice also appears unlikely to support him. Speaking to CBS today, she too was critical of Mr Trump's handling of the protests.
"I would ask the President to first and foremost speak in the language of unity, the language of empathy," Dr Rice said.
"Not everyone is going to agree with any president, but you have to speak to every American, not just to those who might agree with you.
"When the President speaks, it needs to be from a place of thoughtfulness, from a place of having really honed the message so that it reaches all Americans."
Dr Rice urged Mr Trump to "put the tweeting aside for a little bit" and "have a conversation" with the American people.
Originally published as 'Unprecedented': Military leaders intervene
Somebody please tell highly overrated Colin Powell that I will have gotten almost 300 Federal Judges approved (a record), Two Great Supreme Court Justices, rebuilt our once depleted Military, Choice for Vets, Biggest Ever Tax & Regulation Cuts, Saved Healthcare & 2A, & much more!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 7, 2020
Colin Powell was a pathetic interview today on Fake News CNN. In his time, he was weak & gave away everything to everybody - so bad for the USA. Also got the “weapons of mass destruction” totally wrong, and you know what that mistake cost us? Sad! Only negative questions asked.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 8, 2020