“I’ve been associated with the military for over 40 years and I’ve never seen the discussions that are being had right now, the need for such discussions,” says a retired flag officer, currently a defense contractor who has mentored and advised his service’s senior leaders. He was granted anonymity in order to speak without fear of reprisal.
A half-dozen officers in similar positions agree that while there is zero chance that the uniformed leadership would involve itself in any scheme to create an election-related reversal, they worry that the military could get sucked into a crisis of Trump’s making, particularly if the president tries to rally private militias and pro-Trump paramilitaries in an effort to disrupt the transition and bring violence to the capital.
“Right now, because of coronavirus,” one retired judge advocate general says, “the president actually has unprecedented emergency powers, ones that might convince him—particularly if he listens to certain of his supporters—that he has unlimited powers and is above the law.”
“But martial law,” says the lawyer, “is the wrong paradigm to think about the dangers ahead.” Though such a presidential proclamation could flow from his order as commander-in-chief, an essential missing ingredient is the martial side: the involvement and connivance of some cabal of officers who would support the president’s illegal move.