Acting Defense Secretary Restricts Information Military Can Share With Congress
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has imposed new restrictions on the information the Pentagon can share with Congress about the United States’ military operations.
The order, first reported by the Washington Post, came in the form of a May 8 internal memo which laid out new rules for when and how the Pentagon can provide information to congressional committees or individual lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
The Post’s revelations come at a time of heightened tensions with Iran and Venezuela, and as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say the White House has repeatedly withheld information that is preventing Congress from performing its constitutionally-mandated oversight role.
In a joint statement, Representatives Adam Smith, D-Wash., and Mac Thornberry, the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the House Armed Services Committee, said “[i]f implemented, the department’s new policy guidance would dramatically limit Congress’ ability to execute our constitutional prerogative.
“Congress oversees the Department of Defense; but with this new policy, the department is overstepping its authority by presuming to determine what warrants legislative oversight. Furthermore, by applying this policy to all members of Congress, regardless of committee assignment, the Department misunderstands the role and prerogatives of its committees of jurisdiction,” Smith and Thornberry said.
They went on to complain that Shanahan’s memo effectively accuses Congress of being a security risk for classified information.
This is “both inexcusable and inaccurate” the representatives said.
“The Department is not in a position to evaluate Defense committees’ worthiness to receive classified information, nor characterize our ability to appropriately protect it”, Smith and Thornberry continued, vowing to address the matter in the next National Defense Authorization Act.
But Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, a spokesman for Shanahan, said in a statement that in establishing the new policy, the acting secretary is seeking to “increase transparency and information-sharing with Congress.”
“Under his direction, the Department of Defense has been engaging with the Senate and House Armed Services Committees to develop a process for providing Congress with access to plans and operational orders, including Executive Orders. This policy establishes such a process. Previously, no such policy existed,” Buccino said.
Shanahan’s memo includes a number of guidelines for evaluating requests for information from Congress and determining whether they “demonstrate a relationship to the legislative function.”
The Trump administration has used similar wording to justify its refusal to turn other documents over to congressional committees, including the unredacted Mueller report and several years of the president’s tax returns.
The Shanahan memo also directs Defense Department officials to provide a summary briefing rather than a requested operational plan or order itself, citing concerns that Congress will not provide the “degree of protection” to those documents that the Pentagon itself requires.
Shanahan also concentrates responsibility for evaluating congressional requests in the office of the undersecretary of defense for policy, which is typically led by a political appointee.
In the past, officials across the Defense Department had the ability to respond to requests from lawmakers directly.
Senator James Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has not commented publicly on the memo or the controversy now surrounding it.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Senator Jack Reed, D-R.I., the top Democrat on the committee dismissed the memo as an excuse “not to respond to legitimate inquiry of Congress.”
He also suggested the members of Congress are “better positioned” than Pentagon staffers to “determine what we need to do our job.”
The memo could prove to be a headache for Shanahan next month, when he is scheduled to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing.
A former Boeing executive, Shanahan became acting Defense Secretary in January following the resignation of retired four-star Marine general James Mattis.
Mattis quit after repeatedly butting heads with President Trump, their last disagreement reportedly centering on the president’s decision to withdraw roughly 2,000 American troops from Syria last December.
In The News
WASHINGTON — The House Ways and Means Committee said it had received “credible allegations” from a federal employee of potentially “inappropriate efforts to influence” the IRS’ mandatory audit of presidential tax returns. References to the unexplained allegations were in a letter included in a Tuesday filing... Read More
WASHINGTON — Planned Parenthood said Monday it will withdraw from the federal Title X program that helps low-income people access contraception rather than comply with what it calls a new Trump administration “gag rule” that prohibits it from providing abortion referrals to those patients. The announcement... Read More
WASHINGTON - A majority of large employers believe the Medicare for all proposals being touted by some White House aspirants would lower the number of uninsured in the United States, but at a cost of higher taxes and a decline in the quality of health care,... Read More
WASHINGTON — Larry Kudlow pushed back Sunday on the notion that the U.S. economy is headed toward a recession, and said recent phone calls between U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators had produced more “positive news.” Kudlow, the White House National Economic Council director, and Peter Navarro,... Read More
The politics of health care are changing. And one of the most controversial parts of the Affordable Care Act — the so-called Cadillac tax — may be about to change with it. The Cadillac tax is a 40% tax on the most generous employer-provided health insurance... Read More
WASHINGTON - Back home in South Carolina after a mid-week trip to New Hampshire, former Rep. Mark Sanford said Friday he was pleased with how things went in the Granite State and his decision on whether to mount a primary challenge against President Trump will be... Read More