A new list of retired senior military officers who endorse Donald Trump for president includes a three-star general who was reprimanded by the Army for disclosing classified information in a 2008 memoir about his career in special operations.
Retired Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin, a founding member of the Army’s elite Delta Force, is probably the most recognizable name on the list, which includes 88 names and was released Tuesday with a letter in which the signatories said the American people have an “urgently needed opportunity to make a long overdue course correction in our national security posture and policy” by electing Trump president. The letter is seen as an effort to convince voters that the Republican nominee would be a good commander in chief after a number of retired military officers came out against him, but includes several retired officers who have complicated pasts.
“For the past eight years, America’s armed forces have been subjected to a series of ill-considered and debilitating budget cuts, policy choices and combat operations that have left the superb men and women in uniform less capable of performing their vital missions in the future than we require them to be,” the letter said. “Simultaneously, enemies of this country have been emboldened, sensing weakness and irresolution in Washington and opportunities for aggression at our expense and that of other freedom-loving nations.
“In our professional judgment, the combined effect is potentially extremely perilous,” the letter concludes. “That is especially the case if our government persists in the practices that have brought us to this present pass.”
The letter does not name Trump’s opponent, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, or discuss her handling of classified information on a private email server, which Trump and his surrogates often raise to make the case that she would not be a suitable commander in chief. Like Clinton, Boykin was at the center of a criminal investigation for his handling of classified information.
Boykin’s case stems from his book, “Never Surrender: A Soldier’s Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom.” According to military documents obtained by The Washington Post and reported on in 2014, the Army issued him a scathing letter of reprimand in 2013 that said he disclosed “classified information concerning cover methods, counterterrorism/counter-proliferation operations, operational deployments, infiltration methods, pictures, and tactics, techniques and procedures that may compromise ongoing operations.”
Boykin, who was traveling and unavailable for comment Tuesday, questioned the motivation of the Army’s reprimand in a 2014 interview with The Post, saying he had obtained approval to write the book and that everything in it had previously been disclosed in other books, movies and news reports. The general, who retired in 2007, said that an initial investigation in 2010 had determined that no classified information was released but that the Army reopened the criminal case before ultimately deciding not to file charges against him and issuing an administrative reprimand instead.
The investigation coincided with a period when Boykin was facing criticism from religious rights groups and some veterans for a series of comments in which he depicted U.S. military operations against Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda as a Christian fight against Satan. In 2012, he became executive vice president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian and lobbying organization.
“You draw your own conclusions,” Boykin said in an interview with The Post in 2014. “Why would they reopen it? What was the purpose of reprimanding me basically five years after they started an investigation? Did it take that long to determine whether I had written anything classified?”
Army officials said at the time that the reprimand spoke for itself. The memo notifying Boykin of his reprimand did not state which information in the book is considered classified, but it accused him of “unprofessional behavior” that “reflects poorly on your character.” It was signed by Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, who was then the Army’s vice chief of staff and who retired this year as the commander of U.S. Central Command.
“Your decision to disregard legal advice and allow ‘Never Surrender: A Soldier’s Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom’ to be published without seeking classification review reflects a gross lack of judgement,” Austin’s memo said.
Other signatories of the letter endorsing Trump include four retired four-star officers: Army Gen. Burwell B. Bell III, Air Force Gen. Alfred G. Hansen, Army Gen. Crosbie “Butch” Saint and Navy Adm. Jerry Johnson. Bell retired in 2008 after serving as the top U.S. commander in South Korea, and previously was the top U.S. general for Army forces in Europe and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Land Component Command — an interesting wrinkle, considering the ambivalence Trump has expressed about NATO’s role and usefulness to the United States. Hansen, Saint and Johnson all retired more than 20 years ago.
Another signatory is retired Army Lt. Gen. Marvin Covault, who also left the service in the 1990s. Among his last assignments were serving as the chief of staff for a multinational NATO force involved in planning U.S. and NATO operations in the Balkans and the Mediterranean region. As a two-star general, he oversaw U.S. troops who were called in to help quell riots in Los Angeles in 1992.