House Democrats Raise Concerns Over Joint Chiefs’ Quarantine after COVID-19 Exposure

October 7, 2020by John M. Donnelly, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, left, speaks with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence after a Medal of Honor ceremony for U.S. Army Sergeant Major Thomas Payne for conspicuous gallantry while serving in Iraq, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2020. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Top Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee and a former U.S. spy chief expressed concerns about U.S. national security Tuesday after news broke that most of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are quarantining after coming in contact with at least one person who later tested positive for COVID-19.

Seven of the eight members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — the nation’s top military officers — are working from home, according to news reports, though a Pentagon official said Tuesday that none of the officers had tested positive for COVID-19 or shown symptoms.

The Joint Chiefs members had all attended an Oct. 2 meeting at the Pentagon alongside Adm. Charles Ray, vice commandant of the Coast Guard, who had been infected with the virus, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement Tuesday.

Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is among the top officers in quarantine. In addition to attending the Oct. 2 meeting, Milley and other senior Defense Department officials have gotten tested regularly since a Sept. 27 event at the White House for Gold Star families of fallen troops. Ray attended that event too, as did President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, both of whom caught the virus.

House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith criticized Trump for a “reckless and harmful” approach to both messaging about the disease and failing to adequately protect others when Trump got sick. And the Washington Democrat expressed concerns about the chiefs’ condition.

“While our military can still operate while leadership is quarantined, the national security implications of the President’s recklessness cannot be overstated,” Smith said in a statement. “Our adversaries are always looking for any weakness to exploit. President Trump’s pathetic attempts to exude strength aren’t fooling anyone — Americans know he is weak and so do those who wish us harm.”

On the other hand, some experts believe the Joint Chiefs’ quarantine will not hamper the operations in the Pentagon’s top echelon.

Gary Roughead, a retired admiral who served on the Joint Chiefs as the Navy’s top officer, said the quarantine is an inconvenience but not a cause for worry.

“In fact, the communications situation is similar to when a Chief is on overseas travel for an extended period of time,” Roughead said. “It’s unusual so many are out at the same time, but connectivity and strong support staffs will keep all cylinders firing.

California Democrat Jackie Speier, another senior member of the House Armed Services panel, asked on Twitter why, during a pandemic, the chiefs had met in person in the Pentagon’s “tank” meeting room. And she wondered whether they were wearing masks.

“Why are the joint chiefs not holding their meetings remotely using DoD’s secure conference systems before the exposure?” Speier tweeted. “The Pentagon has had 7 months to implement remote and physically distanced work arrangements. Who’s deciding when to meet in person vs. electronically?”

The Trump administration has frowned on mask-wearing and Milley, for one, has been repeatedly photographed without a mask at indoor gatherings of top administration officials, including a Sept. 11 Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House.

“Why are senior military leaders going to WH receptions where no one is wearing a mask during a pandemic” Speier tweeted. “Why is the White House telling the Pentagon not to disclose positive tests in senior leaders while they downplay the severity of the virus and refuse to take preventive steps?”

James Clapper, a former director of national intelligence, told an audience at The Washington Post on Tuesday that Trump’s illness and the self-isolation of most of the military chiefs puts U.S. security in peril.

“This is an ideal time for foreign intelligence to confuse us,” Clapper said. “The Joint Chiefs are in quarantine.”

Clapper also said that Trump’s health is “a high priority collection” topic for foreign intelligence services.

This is a “vulnerable time,” and an opportunity for adversaries, “while we are not looking, to further sow seeds of disinformation, casting doubt, discord, and distrust in our country,” he added.

According to NBC News, in addition to Milley, the other quarantining chiefs are: Vice Chairman Gen. John Hyten, Gen. John Raymond of the Space Force, Gen. Charles Q. Brown of the Air Force, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday and National Guard Chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson.

Director of the National Security Agency Gen. Paul Nakasone is not a member of the Joint Chiefs, but he was also in the meeting and is in self-quarantine, NBC News reported.

The only member of the Joint Chiefs who is not in quarantine, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger, did not attend the meeting.

However, assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Gary Thomas attended in Berger’s place and is self-isolating, NBC News disclosed.

Hoffman said in a statement that the department has been following federal guidelines for protecting its workforce.

“There is no change to the operational readiness or mission capability of the U.S. Armed Forces,” Hoffman said. “Senior military leaders are able to remain fully mission capable and perform their duties from an alternative work location.”

———

Gopal Ratnam contributed to this report.

———

©2020 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

In The News

Health

Voting

Pentagon

Biden Calls for Review of National Security Strategy on China During Pentagon Visit
Geopolitics
Biden Calls for Review of National Security Strategy on China During Pentagon Visit
February 11, 2021
by TWN Staff

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Wednesday called on the Pentagon to conduct a review of of the United States' national security strategy on China. The decision, announced during the president's first visit to the Defense Department, comes amid a growing recognition that the U.S. faces... Read More

Senate Warned About Losing Civilian Control of Defense Dept.
Pentagon
Senate Warned About Losing Civilian Control of Defense Dept.
January 13, 2021
by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON -- Expert witnesses described a deeply troubled Defense Department at a Senate hearing Tuesday as Congress tries to decide whether to approve a new leader for the U.S. military. They said the Defense Department has fallen victim to political partisanship and mismanagement that they hope... Read More

Top Military Leaders Remind Troops of Limits of Free Speech
Pentagon
Top Military Leaders Remind Troops of Limits of Free Speech

WASHINGTON (AP) — Amid worry about renewed violence on Inauguration Day, the military's top leaders issued a written reminder to all service members Tuesday that the deadly insurrection at the Capitol last week was an anti-democratic, criminal act, and that the right to free speech gives... Read More

EXPLAINER: Why National Guard's Role Was Limited During Riot
Cities
EXPLAINER: Why National Guard's Role Was Limited During Riot

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the aftermath of the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol last week, questions are being raised about why the District of Columbia National Guard played such a limited role as civilian law enforcement officers were outnumbered and overrun. The questions also highlight... Read More

In a First, Congress Overrides Trump Veto of Defense Bill
Political News
In a First, Congress Overrides Trump Veto of Defense Bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress on Friday overrode President Donald Trump's veto of a defense policy bill, a first by lawmakers since he took office nearly four years ago, ensuring that the measure becomes law despite Trump's rejection. In an extraordinary New Year's Day session, the Republican-controlled... Read More

Biden Announces New Department of Defense Nominees
Political News
Biden Announces New Department of Defense Nominees
December 30, 2020
by Reece Nations

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden announced Kathleen Hicks and Colin Kahl as his nominees for deputy secretary of defense and under secretary of defense for policy on Wednesday.  If confirmed to the positions, they are slated to join Secretary of Defense-designate Lloyd Austin in the Pentagon... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top