Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis attacked President Donald Trump‘s leadership skill set and inability to unite the country on Wednesday.

“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try,” Mattis said in a statement. “Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”

The statement came hours after the current Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, publicly contradicted Trump in saying the protests across the nation did not warrant invoking the Insurrection Act, which would deploy active military troops to confront American protesters.

Esper said in a news conference that deploying active-duty troops to monitor the protests that were sparked by George Floyd‘s death is a “last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations.”

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“I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act,” Esper said. “Well, I did know that we were going to the church. I was not aware of a photo-op — was happening. Of course, the president drags a large press pool along with him.”

Mattis echoed similar sentiments, saying that using the military against U.S. citizens “erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part.”

Mattis also blasted Trump for the “bizarre” photo of him holding a bible in front of a Washington D.C. church while protests took hold of the nation’s capital.

“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.”

Esper addressed the criticism of the photo-op as well, claiming that the protesters near the church were not teargassed in order to make them disperse for the photo.

“Look, I do everything I can to try stay apolitical, and to try and stay out of situations that may appear political,” Esper said. “National Guard forces did not fire rubber bullets or tear gas into the crowd as reported. Second, guardsmen were instructed to wear helmets and personal protective equipment for their own protection, not to serve as some form of intimidation. Third, military leaders, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were wearing field uniforms because that is appropriate uniform when working in a command center and meeting with troops in the streets. Fourth, it wasn’t until yesterday afternoon that we determined it was a National Guard helicopter that hovered low over a city block in D.C. Within an hour or so of learning of this, I directed the secretary of the Army to conduct an inquiry to determine what happened and why. And to report back to me.”


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