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Transcript: Admiral Mike Mullen on "Face the Nation" on July 18, 2021

The following is a transcript of an interview with Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that aired on Sunday, July 18, 2021, on "Face the Nation."


JOHN DICKERSON: For insight into this episode and the questions it raises, we turn to a man who held this job before him, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who joins us from Hilliard, Ohio. Good morning, Admiral.

FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF ADM. MIKE MULLEN: Good morning, JOHN. It is good to be with you.

JOHN DICKERSON: It's good to have you here. You were chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. What do you make of this episode?

ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think the reporting, from what I understand, has been pretty accurate, pretty chaotic time, particularly after the election and the two threats that you talked about, the external one, and whether or not we would commence some kind of combat or conflict with Iran and then the internal one in terms of where it might go, particularly with respect to how the military would be used by President Trump to somehow validate that the election actually was a fraud and keep the president in power. I think that's all very accurate and obviously incredibly disturbing, literally in every respect.

JOHN DICKERSON: And it's fair to say you don't train for those kinds of eventualities with a commander in chief.

ADM. MULLEN: No, you don't, although I think General Milley and others who've served over the last four years would tell you it's been a very chaotic environment, very difficult to predict what was going to happen from day to day and great concern with respect to the possibility of some of the orders that might come the military's way, which generally will go with the advice of the chairman and certainly directly to a combatant commander in the case of Iran, it would go to Central Command. And so the chairman's got in this case, General Milley, I thought, really did the right thing on both fronts, quite frankly. I don't think he was alone with respect to Iran. But I think on the- on the internal potential for a coup really, really stood up, did the right thing, and I think made the case that he was the right officer to have in the right job at the right time in a- in a very, very difficult, stunning and unprecedented situation.

JOHN DICKERSON: Help us distinguish between garden variety conflict between a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a president. And what we're talking about here, because I know President Obama wrote in his book about once being in a tough conversation with you. Those are you- those are- those happen in that job. But that's something quite different from what Millie was worried about. Right.

ADM. MULLEN: Absolutely, every chairman for the four years that he's there has huge challenges, and so you get into some very, very tough, heated debates about what- what's recommended or what's going to be done in a given situation. But in the end, you know, the chairman and the military leadership, once the president makes a decision, you know, we carry it out. There's no discussion with respect to that. In this case, you know, clearly, had President Trump decided to use the military against the American people and somehow create an opportunity for the president to stay in place, that rubs up or actually it's contrary to the Constitution, which is what the military serves, as opposed to the president, and could be seen as an illegal, immoral or unethical order, in which case, you know, General Milley and the rest of the military leadership, the other four stars, in my view, would be would be required to either resist or if they're unable to resist, resign.

JOHN DICKERSON: One of the turning point moments for General Milley was the president's walk-through Lafayette Park, in which General Milley walked with him, clearing protesters for a photo op. You wrote you spoke out after not speaking out about the Trump administration in an article in The Atlantic and said that you were worried about the military being used in political ways. That was a turning point for you and for General Milley. I guess my point is this- these episodes in his book were a part of a growing trend. It wasn't just what happened at the end of the Trump administration. You- YOU had fears about the politicization of the military long before that.

ADM. MULLEN: I do and- I did and I continue to have them even now, because the political environment is so intense and so divided and we need to work hard to make sure the military doesn't become part of what is politicized in this country, I think as far as Lafayette Park is concerned. General Milley spoke publicly very quickly thereafter and readily admitted he made a big mistake with respect to literally from June until- until after January 6th, when Milley really started to be concerned about what was possible. His antenna was up. He knew the right thing to do. He knew he knew how to do it, as best you could figure out, and what is a very, very fluid situation. And then he executed accordingly. So, I think he more than made up for that mistake that he made surrounding Lafayette Square.

JOHN DICKERSON: All right. Admiral Mike Mullen, thank you so much for being with us and helping us put all of this in context. We really appreciate it. And we'll be back in a moment.

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