Pentagon caught off guard by White House statement on Syria: emails

Pentagon caught off guard by White House statement on Syria: emails
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Internal Pentagon emails show that the White House did not coordinate with or notify Defense Department officials before it released a statement last year warning that the Syrian government would “pay a heavy price” if it conducted another chemical weapons attack, BuzzFeed News reported.

“We woke up to the statement. [White House] did not coord with us or [Joint Chiefs of Staff] or [State Department] from what I can tell,” top Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White told Kevin Sweeney, chief of staff to Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThreatening foreign states with sanctions can backfire Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Amazon to challenge Pentagon's 'war cloud' decision in federal court MORE, in an email obtained by BuzzFeed News.

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The email was sent immediately after the White House’s statement from June 26, 2017, warning Syria after the April 4 chemical attack on its civilians. The emails were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the watchdog group Democracy Forward and shared with BuzzFeed.

Sweeny had forwarded White a BuzzFeed article quoting officials as saying they had “no idea” about the Syria announcement, with two question marks.

Mattis and White were on a plane to Germany to attend a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Marshall Plan when the White House released the statement.

“I have nothing,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis — at the time a Pentagon spokesman — told reporters in an email. “I suppose we send queries back to the White House.” 

“Was there any coord traffic on this?” a Joint Chiefs of Staff employee asked in an email to White and Davis. “This is the first I’m seeing about it. Any [talking points] would be appreciated. I’m getting calls from folks in DC.”

“Surprised us all,” Davis replied.

The emails also highlight that Pentagon and White House officials later deceived the press and public on the coordination between the two buildings.

“DOD knew about the White House statement and provided edits in advance of its release. Anonymous leaks to the contrary are false or misinformed,” White emailed to a Breitbart reporter.

Then-deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the same day that “the military chain of command was also fully aware of the statement as it was being prepared and later released.”

The following day, White emailed Pentagon press officers that the Syria statement was “coordinated between the principals.”

“The WH gets to do whatever it wants when it wants how it wants,” she said in the email, which was partly redacted.