After a week in which President Donald Trump threatened to use military force against protesters, Colin Powell and other retired military leaders blasted the commander-in-chief for taking steps they say will harm the relationship between the military and U.S. citizens.
Powell, who served as Secretary of State under former President George W. Bush and was previously chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN's "State of the Union" that Trump is "drifting" away from the Constitution and said he's a habitual liar.
"We have a Constitution. We have to follow that Constitution. And the president's drifted away from it," Powell said, offering praise for military leaders who have spoken out against the president in recent days.
Colin Powell through his career
Colin Powell through his career
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell (C) and members of the 132nd MP Company pose for photographs in Saudi Arabia December 22, 1990. REUTERS/Jonathan Bainbridge (SAUDI ARABIA - Tags: POLITICS) BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE
President George H.W. Bush meets with his military advisors at the Pentagon to duscuss the Gulf crisis August 15, 1990. From left are: General Norman Schwarzkopf, chief of Middle East forces, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, Bush and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell. REUTERS/Gary Cameron (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE
Former U.S. Defense Secretary Richard Cheney and former Chairman of the
Armed Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell (L), speak with reporters
about reductions in short range nuclear weapons during a press conference at
the Pentagon in this September 28, 1991 file photo. PP03030031
Arriving at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library for award ceremonies November 9 are (L-R) former President Ronald Reagan , Alma Powell , Nancy Reagan and General Colin L. Powell , former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Republican presidential candidate Texas Governor George W. Bush (R) and retired General Colin Powell talk during a campaign stop in Pittsburgh, October 26, 2000. Bush hammered rival Democratic presidential candidate Vice President Al Gore on the responsibility of leadership.
Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush listens to former chairman of the joint chiefs retired Gen. Colin Powell at VFW Post 3323 in Westland, Michigan, September 7, 2000. Powell praised Bush's plan to reinvigorate the U.S. military.
Richard Cheney, U.S. Defense Secretary during the Gulf War, and then Chairman of the Armed Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell (R), address U.S. troops deployed in Saudi Arabia as part of operation Desert Shield during the Gulf crisis, in a December 21, 1990 file photo. According to reports, Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush decided on July 24, 2000 to offer the vice presidential spot on the Republican White House ticket to Cheney. Senior Republican sources in Washington said Bush would call Cheney soon and appear with him July 25. Cheney had previously told associates that if asked, he would accept the nomination. Bush had also been courting Powell for the Vice President's job, but Powell said he was not interested.
Musician Kenny G (center/right) stands with students of Macfarland Middle School (front), Charles Goldstock of Arista Records (left/rear), and General Colin Powell (ret.) (center), as he launches his new Foundation called Miracles by donating instruments to the school in Washington July 1. The mission of The Kenny G Miracles Foundation is to bring the miracle of music to America's youth by providing resources for school programs.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell (R) points as he shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Cairo February 24, 2001. Both men both men are expected to discuss arms control, Iraq and Middle East peace. Powell said his meeting with Ivanov would be a "get
acquainted session" and the start of the engagement between the new Bush administration and the Putin government in Moscow.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell (R) laughs along with other U.S.
officials during ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of Operation
Desert Storm in Kuwait City February 25, 2001. From left, are: former
National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, retired General Norman
Schwarzkopf, U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait James Larocco and Powell, a
retired general and former Joint Chiefs chairman during the Gulf war.
REUTERS/Royal Navy/Dave Coombs/Handout
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell presents an American proposal to help bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under control May 21, 2001. Powell said on Monday he had instructed his ambassador to Jordan, William Burns, to help Israelis and Palestinians build a "timeline" for peace and urged both sides to call an immediate and unconditional cease-fire.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell testifies before the House
Appropriations subcommittee on the Departments of Commerce, Justice,
State and the Judiciary, on Capitol Hill in Washington March 26, 2003.
Powell testified for the State Department's 2004 budget as well as the
war in Iraq. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell speaks on Iraq before members of
the House International Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill, September
19, 2002. President Bush warned today that the U.N. Security Council
must deal with Iraq or the United States and its allies would act
alone. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (2ndL) reads a final statement beside (L-R) Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Spain's Foreign Minister Josep Pique, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and EU Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana during their joint news conference at Moncloa Palace April 10, 2002. Leaders met to discuss the Middle East crisis.
WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 19: Former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell (ret.) speaks during a taping of 'Meet the Press' at NBC October 19, 2008 in Washington, DC. Secretary Powell spoke about his endorsement of Democratic presidential nominee U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images for Meet The Press)
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with former Secretary of State Colin Powell in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, December 1, 2010. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with former Secretary of State Colin Powell in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, December 1, 2010. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell stands over U.S. President Barack Obama during the signing of America's Promise Summit Declaration at the White House in Washington September 22, 2014. Powell served as the founding chairman of America's Promise Alliance which mobilizes non-profit groups, businesses, educators and communities to end high school dropout, and to prepare students for college and the workforce.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS EDUCATION)
Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell speaks alongside US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the unveiling of Powell's official State Department portrait in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the State Department in Washington, DC, on December 7, 2009. Powell served as Secretary of State from 2001-2005 under former US President George W. Bush. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 07: Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell walks by his official State Department portrait after an unveiling ceremony with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the State Department December 7, 2009 in Washington, DC. Powell served as Secretary of State from 2001-2005 under former U.S. President George W. Bush. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Former US Secretaries of State Colin Powell (L) and Hillary Clinton speak during a ceremony to break ground on the US Diplomacy Center at the US State Department in Washington, DC, September 3, 2014. AFP PHOTO / Jim WATSON / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 03: Former Secretaries of State (L-R) Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton share a laugh during the ceremonial groundbreaking for the future U.S. Diplomacy Center with former Secretary of State Colin Powell (L) at the State Department's Harry S. Truman Building September 3, 2014 in Washington, DC. When completed, the Diplomacy Center will be a museum and education center that will 'demonstrate the ways in which diplomacy matters now and has mattered throughout American history.' (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Powell, who did not vote for Trump in 2016, said he would vote for Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, this fall.
Trump responded to Powell on Twitter, calling him "a real stiff who was very responsible for getting us into the disastrous Middle East Wars" and that Powell "just announced he will be voting for another stiff, Sleepy Joe Biden."
Echoing Trump's former Defence Secretary James Mattis, Powell said he agreed that Trump is the first president in his lifetime who is not trying to unite the country. Powell said the protests have shown him the country is at "a turning point."
"The Republican party, the president thought they were immune, they can say anything they wanted," Powell said. "And even more troubling, the Congress would just sit there and not in any way resist what the president is doing."
"The one word I have to use with respect to what he's been doing for the last several years is the word I would never have used before, never would have used with any of the four presidents I worked for, he lies," Powell added. "He lies about things. And he gets away with it because people will not hold him accountable."
Powell was hardly alone among retired military leaders criticising the president on Sunday's political talk shows.
Their commentary came after Mattis on Wednesday slammed Trump's response to the protests over George Floyd's death, writing in The Atlantic that the president "tries to divide us" while calling his "bizarre photo op" in front of St. John's Episcopal Church "an abuse of executive authority." Mattis also compared Trump's response to Nazi tactics.
The stinging commentary came after Monday night's federal show of force to clear protesters from the front of the White House. After they were cleared, Trump walked across Lafayette Square with top military leadership and others to pose for a picture with a Bible in front of the church, which had sustained fire damage as a result of rioting the night before. The photo opportunity came minutes after Trump announced he was prepared to call in the military to deal with unruly protesters around the country.
Trump blasted Mattis in response, calling him "the world's most overrated general."
On ABC's "This Week," retired Army. Gen. Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Trump's "inflammatory language" could significantly strain post-Vietnam War efforts to regain citizen trust in the military.
"It seems to me (the protests) are all about...trying to allow people to actually fulfill their potential, one of the great promises of living in this country," Dempsey said. "So we absolutely have to be very careful about how the military is used in that circumstance."
On NBC's "Meet the Press," retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis said the protests aren't "a battlespace to be dominated,'" pointing to comments from Trump and his administration. And on "Fox News Sunday," retired Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, also a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said the military "should never be called to fight our own people as enemies of the state," adding, "We have a military to fight our enemies, not our own people."
Elsewhere, Attorney General William Barr told CBS's "Face the Nation," that he, Defence Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed that active duty military should only be used "as a last resort and that we didn't think we would need them."