Future comments come a day after Trump bypassed a question about whether he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost the November election. His press secretary later said the president would “accept the results of a free and fair election”. The president has also repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of postal voting, even asking Americans to vote twice, which is illegal.
In addition to his constitutional concerns, Zukunft said he was forced to support Biden as the government stopped funding Trump’s border wall in 2019, which left the more than 40,000 Coast Guard workers working without pay for several months. He is also concerned about Trump̵
Zukunft joined the recently retired Air Force General Paul Selva, who served as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until August 2019, and was the second senior officer in the military to sign the letter.
The four-star retired officers are two of nearly 200 other retired generals and admirals who have thrown their support behind the former vice-presidents. The group, which describes itself as the national security leader for Biden, also includes former defense ministers, ambassadors and a number of high profile Republicans.
“We love our country. Unfortunately, we fear that too,” said the open letter. “The COVID-19 pandemic has proven America needs principled, wise, and responsible leadership. America needs a president who understands, as President Harry S. Truman said, ‘the money stops here’.”
Other signatories included two Obama Defense Ministers, Ash Carter and Chuck Hagel, and Eric Edelman, who served as Under-Secretary of State for Defense for Policy in the George W. Bush administration.
When asked to respond to the letter during Thursday’s White House briefing, Spokesman Kayleigh McEnany said Trump’s record “speaks for itself”.
“Our militaries, our veterans, our veterans love this president for a very specific reason. Under Obama-Biden, sequestration really gutted our military. They had the Navy at its smallest point ever, and the other branches of the military were absolutely gutted.” said she said. “Then you had President Trump coming in and raising a record amount of funding for our military and our Department of Defense and building our military.”
“I cannot speak to a person’s reasoning,” she said when asked about Selva’s involvement. “But this president, if you look at what he’s done – bringing our troops home and everything he’s done – the grassroots of this military love this president.”
It is rare for recently retired senior military officers to publicly endorse a political candidate or criticize a commander in chief whom they have served. While former top military leaders have endorsed Biden and blasted Trump, Selva is the most senior Trump-era leader to do so. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, chose both Selva and Zukunft for the Jobs, but they served well in the Trump administration.
In the interview, Zukunft described a chaotic government that was often unbalanced by an unpredictable leader. He recalled when Trump announced in a series of tweets in July 2017 that transgender people were no longer allowed to serve in the military. Zukunft said he had called his then boss Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who would later serve as White House chief of staff. Kelly, also unprepared, was concerned about breaking the trust of service members who had recently come out transgender, he said.
“How do you react to a tweet?” Future said. “The whole decision-making process, it would be a tweet, what is the public reaction, and then things would move in that direction. At no point has there been any discussion or deliberation, or we are considering lifting.” this and gain your insights. ‘”
Zukunft interacted with Trump several times during his first two years in office, including quarterly meetings at the Pentagon or the White House, and he quickly learned how to get the president’s attention. During a briefing in Key West, Florida, Zukunft recalled how Trump grew increasingly bored as a Navy admiral and an Air Force general debated strengthening partnerships.
When it was his turn, Zukunft told the president what he thought he heard: “Mr. President, you are the first commander in chief to get off your ass and see what the hell is going on down here.”
“Now I don’t normally talk like that anymore,” Zukunft told POLITICO. “But as soon as I did, the President held onto every word I had to say.” Trump agreed to provide the Coast Guard with the additional vessels it will need to monitor the region in the future.
Later, when Trump was speaking at the opening ceremony at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, Zukunft asked the speechwriter to add a line about building additional icebreakers. When the President read the line on the teleprompter, the crowd went wild, he said.
“It got the attention he was looking for, by the way, in a very blue state,” said Zukunft.
In light of recent reports that the president had downgraded troops wounded or killed in action, Zukunft insisted he never heard Trump say anything like that. He said he was grateful that Trump presided over his change of command ceremony after 41 years of service, the only time a president has done this for a Coast Guard commander, he said.
Trump’s policies, however, have damaged America’s reputation in the world, Zukunft said, citing the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement without an alternative solution.
“Our global reputation has suffered under this government,” he said.
In contrast, Biden is a measured leader and surrounds himself with advisors with different points of view, he said.
“He has excellent diplomatic skills. I think he would be a great envoy to help restore our allies’ trust in the US brand,” said Zukunft.
In Thursday’s letter, the signatories similarly confronted Biden Trump, who has shown that he is “not up to the enormous responsibility of his office”.
“Thanks to his contemptuous demeanor and failure, our allies no longer trust or respect us and our enemies no longer fear us,” they wrote, citing failures in climate change and the North Korean nuclear program. They also beat Trump for ceding influence to Russia and starting a trade war with China that hurt American workers.
Zukunft also said he was dismayed by how Trump’s presidency had divided Americans, noting that as a “career official” he had “taken the highest oath to support and defend the United States Constitution”.
“I should be able to sit down and have a healthy conversation with a Democrat and a Republican over a cup of coffee, but instead it’s almost like it’s the Hatfields and the McCoys,” Zukunft said.