Retired Navy Admiral Michael Mullen—who was appointed as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by former President George W. Bush—said he is "very concerned" about things "Trump loyalists" in the Pentagon could do during the transition from President Donald Trump to President-elect Joe Biden.
Although Biden was declared the winner of the election just over three weeks ago, Trump has refused to concede as he insists without evidence that he lost through widespread voter fraud. Trump's refusal to concede delayed the official transition process, as the General Services Administration (GSA) did not "ascertain" the results of the election and allow it to go forward until last Monday. This decision finally came after a number of prominent Republicans urged for the process to go ahead due to concerns about national security and the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I think I'm actually very concerned about the Trump loyalists who have now gone to work in the Pentagon," Mullen warned during an interview with NBC News' Meet the Press. "I mean, recently, Secretary [of Defense Mark] Esper was fired, and a host of other people left the building. And there are some real Trump loyalists there now in charge and it's pretty difficult to think that over the course of 50 or 60 days you can do something constructive, but you can do something that's really destructive,"
Mullen specifically pointed to possible Trump administration actions toward Iran. "I would be concerned that those issues continue to be raised," he said.
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"One of the things that I learned in the job that I had is you don't want to—you'd like to do all you can to not box in the president, to give any president as many options and as much space as possible," the retired military officer explained. "So, this is obviously the opposite case right now." He pointed out that the transition was completely different between Bush and former President Barack Obama.
Although Mullen was appointed by Bush as the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2007, he continued to serve in that role for more than two-and-a-half years under Obama.
Newsweek reached out to the Pentagon's press office for comment, but did not receive an immediate response.
Prior to the GSA allowing Biden's transition to formally move forward, a group of more than 100 national security experts who had served in Republican administrations or in Congress warned about the risks of not having a smooth transition in an open letter.
"President Trump's continued efforts to cast doubt on the validity of the election and to interfere in state electoral processes undermine our democracy and risk long-term damage to our institutions," they wrote.
Trump's former national security adviser, John Bolton, has been highly critical of Trump's unfounded claims of widespread fraud. He has also warned that a hampered transition could come with risks to national security.
"Acknowledge the reality that Biden is the president-elect. They may not like it, but the country deserves to give him the preparation he needs," Bolton told NPR on November 13. "A gracious president who kept the country's interest first would acknowledge that."