Former President Donald Trump was incensed enough with criticism from some of the nation’s most storied former special forces leaders that he contemplated bringing them back to active duty only to court martial them.

In an excerpt from former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper new book, Trump ordered Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to force retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Adm. William McRaven back to duty for the purpose of punishing them. 

"So disloyal," Trump allegedly vented to Milley and Esper after broaching the idea of court martialing the top officers. 

Trump only backed down after Milley promised to personally call the two and urge them to dial back any public criticism of Trump. In a comment to Talking Points Memo, McRaven said he never received any such call from Milley. 

Both officers were critical of Trump while out of uniform during his presidency. 

In 2018, McRaven flatly criticized Trump as the “greatest threat to democracy” in his lifetime, pointing to his attacks on the press and his revocation of former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance over his own critical comments. Over the next two years, McRaven published more articles where he criticized Trump and warned of the danger he felt he presented to democracy.

McChrystal, for his part, was less open in his criticism of Trump. In 2016, McChrystal declined a potential offer to serve as Trump’s Secretary of Defense or in any role in his administration. In 2020, McChrystal endorsed Joe Biden over Trump and advised a pro-Biden super PAC to combat misinformation from Trump’s campaign.

McChrystal and McRaven served in the U.S. special forces community for decades and were responsible for leading some of the biggest wins in the War on Terror following the 9/11 attacks in 2001. 

Under McChrystal’s leadership, special forces Joint Special Operations Command, the U.S. military’s most elite black ops unit, killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in an airstrike in 2006 in a major blow to Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Zarqawi's branch of Al-Qaeda would later grow into the Islamic State.

McRaven, a Navy SEAL by training, served as McChrystal’s immediate deputy in Iraq and later was nominated to be the leader of Special Operations Command by President Barack Obama. In 2011, McRaven was responsible for leading the operation that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan.