SecDef Esper draws a line, of sorts. After a day of intense criticism for his participation in a presidential photo op that followed the violent clearing of a public park of peaceful protesters, Defense Secretary Mark Esper pushed back on at least one idea floated by President Trump: ordering active duty troops to act much more forcefully against Americans during the present civil unrest, presumably by invoking an 1807 law.
“I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act,” Esper told reporters in a Wednesday morning press conference.
He also said he had ordered an investigation into the use of military helicopters to pour rotorwash on people out after curfew in Washington, D.C., streets. It was not immediately clear whether this will be a separate investigation from the one that the commander of the D.C. National Guard announced Tuesday night.
Esper had ordered about 1,600 active duty Army soldiers to the Washington, D.C. area on Monday and Tuesday “as a prudent planning measure in response to ongoing support to civil authorities operations,” Jonathan Hoffman, DoD’s lead spokesman, said in a Tuesday night statement. They include:
- An infantry battalion from the Army’s Immediate Response Force based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
- The 16th Military Police Brigade headquarters from Bragg and the 91st Military Police Battalion from Fort Drum, New York. The former provides command-and-control for the latter, which consists mostly of military police and engineers.
As of 9:36 p.m. on Tuesday, the soldiers were on military bases near but not in Washington itself, Hoffman said. “They are on heightened alert status but remain under Title X authority and are not participating in defense support to civil authority operations.”
But plenty of other military and paramilitary troops were on the capital’s streets. Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams: “A parade of National Guard personnel carriers and Humvees rolled down some of Washington, D.C.’s most famous thoroughfares. By late afternoon, units were stationed on street corners across the capital, directing traffic, closing off blocks from vehicle traffic and occasionally engaging with frustrated protesters. Units from the FBI, Bureau of Prisons, and DEA in paramilitary uniforms were scattered across the city. At the Lincoln Memorial, other camouflaged officers with no insignia identifying their agency squared off with protesters. At least one Black Hawk helicopter hovered overhead.” Read on, here.
Pentagon damage-control: On Monday, the White House had peaceful protestors cleared from a nearby park with chemical sprays — the CDC calls it tear gas; U.S. officials are calling it “pepper balls” — so that President Trump — accompanied by Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs — could pose for a photo op and campaign video. On Tuesday and Wednesday morning, Pentagon officials sought to answer the ensuing criticism over that episode and others.
- One defense official who called a Tuesday press conference and insisted on anonymity said the National Guard troops who helped other agencies forcibly clear peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square did not fire the tear gas and rubber bullets.
- Later in the day, Esper said he had “no idea” about the plan to disperse protesters, with violence if necessary.
Others speak out. Last week, Esper asked the service chiefs to stay quiet about the protests and the military’s role in responding to them, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. But on Monday, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein followed his senior enlisted advisor into the public discussion, issuing a memo to various service commanders that said, “Every American should be outraged that the conduct exhibited by police in Minneapolis can still happen in 2020.” More, here.
A member of the Defense Science Board resigned in protest on Tuesday. James Miller, a former defense undersecretary for policy, wrote in a Washington Post oped that Esper had violated his oath to defend the Constitution. “You may not have been able to stop President Trump from directing this appalling use of force, but you could have chosen to oppose it,” wrote James Miller. “Instead, you visibly supported it.” Read, here.
A former Joint Chiefs chairman slammed Trump. Wrote Mike Mullen, who also served as chief of naval operations: “Whatever Trump’s goal in conducting his visit, he laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country, gave succor to the leaders of other countries who take comfort in our domestic strife, and risked further politicizing the men and women of our armed forces.” Read that at Defense One, here.
Spotted in Hollywood: National Guard troops taking a knee with protesters Tuesday. That, here.
From Defense One
Quieter Night In DC As Protests Continue Amid Large Militarized Response Force / Katie Bo Williams: The show-of-force angered protesters, but the crowds eventually dwindled without much police intervention.
Pentagon Says Guard Did Not Tear-Gas Protesters; Downplays Role In Militarized Response // Katie Bo Williams: A senior official also said SecDef was unaware of the plan to clear a public park for a Trump photo op.
I Cannot Remain Silent // Former CNO & CJCS Mike Mullen, The Atlantic: Our fellow citizens are not the enemy, and must never become so.
Army Scientists: All Strains of COVID-19 Can Be Covered by One Vaccine // Patrick Tucker: The service is on track to produce a vaccine against multiple coronavirus strains by the end of the year. But making it available is the CDC’s job.
Protests Could Lead to Surge of Coronavirus Cases, Officials Say // Kate Elizabeth Queram, Route Fifty: Public health officials and lawmakers worry that COVID-19 could spread quickly through protest gatherings.
Police Militarization Has Fostered a Culture that Sees Protesters as ‘The Enemy’ // Tom Nolan, The Conversation: I served 27 years as a police officer, I have observed this militarization firsthand, and studied how it affects confrontations.
Is the Conflict in Libya a Preview of the Future of Warfare? // Colin P. Clarke and Nathan Vest: Drones. Mercenaries. Disinformation campaigns waged on social media.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Bradley Peniston and Ben Watson. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1916, the National Defense Act increased the size, training budget, pay, and federal supervision of the National Guard. For example, the bill raised federal pay for 48 days of drill and 15 days of annual training. "Previously the federal government paid for five days of summer camp, and nothing for drills," the Guard recalls in its remembrance of the act and its implications. Read on, here.
The Pentagon reminded us Tuesday that the U.S.-RoK relationship is still eroding quietly — since the troop-hosting deal known as the Special Measures Agreement still has not been renewed for the present calendar year.
What has been updated is South Korea’s recent “proposal to fund the labor costs for [more than 4,000] U.S. Forces Korea Korean National employees through the end of 2020,” the U.S. Defense Department announced Tuesday. The cost to Seoul for this update is estimated at $200 million, and the U.S. command in Korea “expects all KN employees to return to work no later than mid-June.”
What about the SMA? “We strongly encourage our Ally to reach a fair agreement as quickly as possible,” the Defense Department pleaded in its Tuesday statement. “The United States has shown considerable flexibility in their approach to the SMA negotiations, and requests that the ROK does the same. Without an agreed upon SMA, critical defense infrastructure projects will remain suspended, all logistics support contracts for USFK will continue to be paid completely by the U.S., and burden sharing will remain out of balance for an Alliance that values and desires parity. USFK’s mid- and long-term force readiness remains at risk.”
The U.S. military is going back to year-long deployments to Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula. Now Mideast tours will become 12-month gigs, according to a Defense Department message distributed Tuesday (emphasis added): “As a byproduct of the Department’s continuous reassessment of personnel policies worldwide, DoD military personnel will gradually transition to 12-month unaccompanied tours for designated duty stations in the region.” Read more from the Defense Department here and here.
Finally today: Russia probe post-mortem begins. At press time, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has begun testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in "the first in a series of oversight hearings that coincide with accelerated election-year efforts to review the FBI’s Russia investigation," AP reports.
Bigger picture: AP: “The hearing, called by the committee chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is also a GOP effort to refocus public attention on the Russia investigation at a time when Trump is facing public scrutiny over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and unrest in American cities set off by the death of George Floyd.”
So far in the hearing, Rosenstein has spent a decent amount of time defending his decision to appoint Special Counsel Robert Mueller to head the investigation.
Recall that Mueller’s team “did not reach a conclusion as to whether [Trump] broke the law, in part because Justice Department policy bars the indictment of sitting presidents.” Continue reading, here. Or catch a livestream via the committee’s page, here.