Senior Defense Department officials reportedly are worried Donald Trump will send in military forces to put down any domestic unrest that might break out after November’s election.
Pentagon brass are worried Mr Trump would use American military troops on American citizens should protests turn violent if he loses and tries to remain in office, according to the New York Times.
Some top Pentagon officials have privately discussed stepping down if Mr Trump gives such an order. In June, Attorney General William Barr ordered federal police to use pepper balls and tear gas on protesters in Washington; federal law enforcement also has been deployed to Portland, where they clashed with protesters.
The president earlier this week declined to say he would hand over power peacefully to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden if he deems the former vice president defeated him in a “fair” election.
“Well,” Mr Trump said on Wednesday evening, “we’re going to have to see what happens.”
“I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster and…” he continued until the reporter tried again.
“We want to have... Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very trans…” Mr Trump replied, seemingly unable to admit he might lose. “We’ll have a very peaceful…” he stopped again, before concluding: “There won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation. The ballots are out of control.”
Former Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren pressed several Cabinet secretaries to somehow prevent Trump from using military forces on domestic soil after the election.
“In July I asked four Cabinet secretaries to commit that they wouldn't let Trump use federal troops or agents to suppress democracy. None did – three didn’t respond at all. AG Barr,” she tweeted,
Only that civilian and uniformed officials cannot stop a president from doing anything. They either get fired or would have to quit if they felt uncomfortable with the boss’s orders.
That means Mr Trump would simply go down each agency’s chain of command, firing anyone who refused, until he found an official to assume control of that department or military branch on an acting basis who would give such orders.
The lone recourse would be impeachment by the House and removal by the Senate.
The latter chamber is in play, but Democrats are not expected to have more than a few-seat majority, should voters give them control. They would need two-thirds of the full Senate to remove any sitting commander in chief.