Dunford Says He'll Never Talk about Trump, Even After Leaving the Military

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford speak to reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon on Aug. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Military.com | By Gina Harkins

The military's top officer is approaching retirement, but no one should expect him to dish on President Donald Trump as commander in chief, he told reporters this week.

Marine Gen. Joe Dunford acknowledged that he's leading the military through a "politically turbulent time." But the chairman of the Joint Chiefs has spent his career staying apolitical and pledged to remain so in retirement.

"I will not now, nor will I when I take off the uniform, make judgments about the president of the United States or the commander in chief," Dunford said during a Wednesday press briefing at the Pentagon. "I just won't do it."

Dunford's comments follow a new warning from his longtime Marine friend and colleague, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, that the U.S. has entered into a dangerous period of tribalism he says could destroy American democracy. Though Mattis didn't blame Trump for the problems he described in his op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, he appeared to reference some of the disagreements that led him to resign in protest from the defense secretary job -- particularly regarding the importance of strong alliances.

During Dunford’s tenure as the Joint Chiefs chairman, troops have also been photographed asking Trump to sign caps with his "Make America Great Again" election slogan and cheering when he disparaged members of the press during a speech at a Marine Corps base.

Dunford said those issues are taken seriously, and are typically dealt with at the unit level. But he stressed that he "wouldn't want any of those specific incidents that have been raised to characterize the men and women in uniform."

They continue to display professionalism, he said, and have the confidence of most Americans, despite the country's deep partisan divide.

"Almost 80% of the American people still have trust in the United States military as an institution," he said, "and we take that very seriously."

Defense Secretary Mark Esper again said he's committed to keeping politics out of the military.

"I believe the best way to do that begins with the chairman and I behaving in an apolitical way," Esper said. "From there, the leadership that we demonstrate and values we emulate work their way throughout the force."

As Dunford prepares to turn over his position to Army Gen. Mark Milley, ending his 40-plus years in uniform, he said he will always remain nonpartisan when offering military advice to American leaders.

"I'm going to stay in that lane," Dunford said.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.