US President Donald Trump speaks as Defense Secretary James Mattis (L) looks on during a meeting with senior military leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House on October 5, 2017.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images
WASHINGTON — Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis ripped into his former boss President Donald Trump in a scathing Wednesday night statement.
“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,” Mattis wrote. “We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership,” he wrote, adding that he “watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled.”
Mattis’ statement comes as the nation braces for the ninth day of protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd. Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
The ensuing civil unrest, some of which turned violent, prompted Trump to call for governors to use harsher tactics and greater force when confronting protesters. On the same call, a recording of which was obtained by NBC News, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told states “to dominate the battle space” when dealing with the demonstrations.
Mattis, who resigned from the Trump administration in December 2018, criticized Esper’s terminology.
“We must reject any thinking of our cities as a ‘battlespace’ that our uniformed military is called upon to ‘dominate,” he explained. “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.”
Hours after the call, Trump gave an address at the White House, in which he threatened to deploy active-duty U.S. military if states failed to quell demonstrations.
“As we speak, I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults and the wanton destruction of property,” Trump said at the time, while protesters were being pushed away from the White House.
Trump then walked through the square with several members of his Cabinet as well as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer. The president then stood in front of the historic church holding a Bible and posing for photographs. He later motioned to members of his Cabinet to stand alongside him for more pictures.
Esper, who has previously said he would preserve the U.S. military’s apolitical nature, entered the frame and stood alongside Trump for the photo op. In a Tuesday night interview with NBC News, Esper said: “I didn’t know where I was going” when asked about the highly criticized photo opportunity. “I thought I was going to do two things: to see some damage and to talk to the troops.”
President Donald Trump walks with US Attorney General William Barr (L), US Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper (C), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark A. Milley (R), and others from the White House to visit St. John’s Church after the area was cleared of people protesting the death of George Floyd June 1, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP via Getty Images
Before Mattis became Trump’s Defense secretary, the four-star Marine Corps general led the U.S. Central Command, the combat command responsible for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mattis, a revered Marine with a military career spanning four decades, was hailed for his battlefield prowess and kinship with rank-and-file servicemembers. Throughout his military career, Mattis was affectionately referred to as “Mad Dog” and “warrior monk.” He was known for his strategy, matter-of-factness and disdain for PowerPoint, which is recognized as the U.S. military’s signature teaching tool.
The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.