Former Defense Secretaries Jim Mattis and Mark Esper both condemned both Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol building by rioters and President Donald Trump for his role in the violence.
“Today’s violent assault on our Capitol, an effort to subjugate American democracy by mob rule, was fomented by Mr. Trump,” Mattis said in a statement. “His use of the presidency to destroy trust in our election and to poison our respect for fellow citizens has been enabled by pseudo political leaders whose names will live in infamy as profiles in cowardice.”
On Wednesday afternoon, shortly after lawmakers had begun the process of finalizing President-elect Joe Biden’s victory last fall, hundreds of supporters of Trump rushed the Capitol building, eventually breaching entrances and flooding the floors outside the House and Senate chambers.
One woman was killed and other rioters and police injured as lawmakers, staff and reporters were evacuated to secure areas of Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the actions “a failed insurrection” and vowed that “criminal behavior will never dominate Congress.”
The violence came after Trump addressed the crowd on the National Mall, citing claims of election fraud that courts have repeatedly rejected as baseless.
Mattis — the former Marine Corps general who was fired by the commander-in-chief after almost two years leading the Pentagon — said that because of his actions, “Mr. Trump will deservedly be left a man without a country” while “our Constitution and our republic will overcome this stain and ‘We the People’ will come together again in our never-ending effort to form a more perfect union.”
Esper, who replaced Mattis and was also fired by Trump, called the attack on the Capitol “appalling and un-American.”
“This is not how citizens of the world’s greatest and oldest democracy behave,” he said in a statement. “The perpetrators who committed this illegal act were inspired by partisan misinformation and patently false claims about the election. This must end now for the good of the republic.”
Earlier this week, Esper and Mattis joined the eight other living former defense secretaries in an editorial in the Washington Post calling for a peaceful transfer of power and calling for current defense officials to “refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder the success of the new team.”
“The time for questioning the results has passed; the time for the formal counting of the electoral college votes, as prescribed in the Constitution and statute, has arrived,” they wrote.
Law enforcement officials — including hundreds of National Guard troops called to Capitol Hill to help disperse the crowd — took about six hours to secure both the House and Senate chambers to resume certification of the election results.
“American elections and the peaceful transfers of power that result are hallmarks of our democracy,” Esper said. “This year should be no exception.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.