Shanahan orders new restrictions on sharing of military operations with Congress: report

Shanahan orders new restrictions on sharing of military operations with Congress: report
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Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanEsper's chief of staff to depart at end of January Defense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China's investments, blasts Russia Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall MORE has ordered new restrictions on how the Pentagon shares information about international military operations with Congress, according to an internal memo obtained by The Washington Post.

The May 8 document lists criteria for when Defense Department officials are allowed to provide congressional offices or committees with information regarding operational plans and orders, according to the newspaper.

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The memo comes amid criticism from Capitol Hill that the Trump administration is withholding information to impede a slate of oversight probes in the House. Some lawmakers have also expressed concerns that the Defense Department is becoming too involved in President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff pleads to Senate GOP: 'Right matters. And the truth matters.' Anita Hill to Iowa crowd: 'Statute of limitations' for Biden apology is 'up' Sen. Van Hollen releases documents from GAO investigation MORE’s immigration policy, according to the Post

“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,” Reps. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithBroad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa Lawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Overnight Defense: Foreign policy takes center stage at Democratic debate | House delivers impeachment articles to Senate | Dems vow to force new vote on Trump's border wall MORE (D-Wash.) and Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryBroad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa Lawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown GOP senator on Trump soliciting foreign interference: 'Those are just statements' MORE (R-Texas), the chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, respectively, told the Post.

The Pentagon hit back at the criticism, saying the new policy is intended to increase transparency between the Pentagon and Congress.

“In establishing this policy, Secretary Shanahan seeks 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,” Joe Buccino, a spokesman for Shanahan, said in a statement to The Hill. 

The memo, which was reportedly shared widely within the Pentagon but was sent to key lawmakers after inquiries from the Post, lists six guidelines for information sharing with Capitol Hill.

The document orders military officials and political appointees to determine whether a congressional request “contains sufficient information to demonstrate a relationship to the legislative function” and urges officials to provide a summary briefing instead of the requested plan or order itself.

It also gives responsibility for evaluating congressional requests to the undersecretary of Defense for policy, often a political appointee. Officials across the Pentagon previously responded to requests on an ad hoc basis. 

The memo appears to arise from worries that lawmakers could leak military plans, calling on officials to evaluate “whether the degree of protection from unauthorized disclosure that Congress will afford to the plan is equivalent to that afforded” by the Pentagon, according to the Post. 

The memo “seems to be another way in which they can claim that they don’t need to respond to legitimate inquiry of Congress,” Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedSix mayors making a difference Overnight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request Senate Dems urge Esper to oppose shifting Pentagon money to border wall MORE (D-R.I.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the Post. 

“From what I can glean from the memorandum, basically they can use any factor they want to say no and they can make a determination what they think we need to do our job,” he continued. “I think we’re better positioned to determine what we need to do our job.”

An anonymous Pentagon official told the Post that the agency’s officials had been worried about potential congressional interference in the formulation of military plans, what the Defense Department considers to be an executive branch function. The official added that Congress had been most interested in special operations activities, which are highly sensitive and have produced significant public backlash in recent years.

Shanahan is due to appear in an upcoming confirmation hearing in front of the Senate after Trump nominated him to be secretary of Defense, a position Shanahan has taken on an acting basis after the resignation of James MattisJames Norman MattisLawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Overnight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request Trump called top military brass 'a bunch of dopes and babies' in 2017: book MORE.