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Source: United States House of Representatives – Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11)

Esper Provides Vague, Unsatisfactory Answers to Slotkin, Sherrill’s Questions on Politicization of Military

WASHINGTON, DC –– Reps. Elissa Slotkin (MI-08) and Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11) today called on Defense Secretary Mark Esper to publicly commit to upholding the military’s apolitical role in America’s constitutional order after the secretary delivered vague and unsatisfactory answers to a series of questions on the Trump administration’s repeated attempts to politicize the military.

Secretary Esper’s responses to Reps. Slotkin and Sherrill’s formal questions for the record are attached.

“Rep. Slotkin and I put questions to the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in July to ensure that our military leaders understand the role and responsibilities of our military in an election,” said Sherrill. “Namely, our troops should not be used in partisan politics and our leaders answer only to the legitimate Commander in Chief – the one chosen by the people and certified by Congress. We have not received a direct commitment from Secretary Esper that he will refuse commands from an illegitimate President. Given the fact that the President has used our military for partisan purposes in the past and that the President has suggested he will not concede if he loses, it is incumbent upon the Secretary of Defense to fulfill his constitutional duties and ensure the apolitical role of the military.”

“If the president were to refuse to participate in a peaceful transition of power, his cabinet would have to support that action,” Slotkin said. “Congresswoman Sherrill and I wrote to Secretary Esper and Chairman Milley both as cabinet-level officials but also as the senior most representatives of the uniformed military. Beyond service to any one president, they have a responsibility to uphold the conduct and reputation of the institution that they love. I appreciated that General Milley’s responses to our questions came from that perspective –– both in terms of what he would do as a cabinet-level official, but also demonstrating how important the apolitical reputation of the military is to him. We heard no such thing from Secretary Esper in his responses. And on a question as serious as the peaceful transition of power, it should be pretty cut and dried to be able to respond in a declarative way.”

Sherrill and Slotkin drew on their national security backgrounds in posing the written questions for the record to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and to Esper following a July 9 House Armed Services Committee Hearing exploring concerns over the military’s role in civil law enforcement.

Sherrill was able to address some, but not all, of these issues during the hearing.

Sherrill, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and former Navy helicopter pilot, and Slotkin, a former CIA analyst and senior Defense Department official, sought answers on any military role in polling places, the potential for politically motivated military operations, and the responsibility of civilian and uniformed military leaders to follow the orders of a lawfully elected president as certified by Congress.

In August, Milley provided a series of lengthy and thoughtful responses, writing that “I believe deeply in the principle of an apolitical U.S. military,” commiting to obey all lawful orders and to refuse any unlawful order. Milley also said he foresaw no role for the military in the election process and that it was up to civilian officials to determine the outcome of the election, not the military. 

In one response Milley wrote: “We will not turn our backs on the Constitution of the United States.”

By contrast, Esper’s answers included more vague commitments without acknowledging the significant questions that have arisen about President Trump’s willingness to use military forces to affect the election or to reject its results.

Slotkin has also submitted formal questions for the record to Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, expressing concerns related to using the Department of Homeland Security for the President’s personal or political gain, as well as a letter to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, pressing him on his recent actions that appear to politicize U.S. intelligence on foreign election interference for President Trump’s political benefit.