OP-ED-MATTIS-COMMENTARY-LA

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis testifies on the fiscal year 2019 budget at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill April 26, 2018, in Washington, D.C. 

Gen. James Mattis, the Pullman native and former U.S. Defense Secretary, broke his silence on his former boss, President Donald Trump, on Wednesday, accusing the commander-in-chief of an "abuse of executive authority" in responding to peaceful protesters outside the White House earlier this week.

"I have watched this week's unfolding events, angry and appalled," Mattis wrote in a statement first published by national news magazine "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."

It's the first words of direct criticism against Trump leveled by Mattis, who stepped down as Secretary of Defense in January 2019 and has since declined to comment on the administration. He said Trump is the first president in his liftetime "who does not try to unite the American people -- does not even pretend to try."

On Twitter Wednesday evening, Trump blasted Mattis as "the world's most overrated General. I asked for his letter of resignation, & felt great about it. His nickname was 'Chaos', which I didn't like, & changed to 'Mad Dog' ... 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!"

Trump's take on Mattis' time serving as his defense secretary differed in December 2018, when Mattis left the post and Trump tweeted that he would be "retiring, with distinction" and praised him for the "tremendous progress" made during his tenure.

"I greatly thanks Jim for his service!" Trump tweeted at the time.

At an appearance in Spokane last fall, Mattis largely avoided discussing the president and instead implored young Americans to prepare and sign up for military duty. He was the keynote speaker at an annual fundraiser held by the Washington Policy Center, a free market think tank.

Mattis told The Atlantic he was spurred to comment by Trump's use of military personnel outside the White House gates, including their actions to disperse protesters so that the president could walk to a nearby church that had been damaged during protests over the weekend.

"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."

Mattis was born in Pullman but raised in Richland, later attending Central Washington University and enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1969. His appointment as Defense Secretary was heralded by members of both parties, who confirmed him nearly unanimously in the U.S. Senate and saw Mattis as tougher on Russia than Trump and more likely to seek global military allies.

Other military leaders joined condemnation of Trump's actions Wednesday, including Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under presidents George Bush and Barack Obama. Mullen, too, said he was spurred to speak out by the use of troops to disperse peaceful protesters in Washington D.C.

"The United States has a long and, to be fair, sometimes troubled history of using the armed forces to enforce domestic laws," Mullen wrote, also in "The Atlantic." "The issue for us today is not whether this authority exists, but whether it will be wisely administered."

Mattis' entire statement can be read on "The Atlantic" website. He urged Americans to remember the words of President Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address and appeal to our "better angels," an appeal to come together even as the country was being torn apart by the beginning of the Civil War.

"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," Mattis wrote.

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