Warren spars with Trump's top Defense nominee over ethics

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Tuesday slammed President TrumpDonald John TrumpJustice says it will recommend Trump veto FISA bill Fauci: Nominating conventions may be able to go on as planned Poll: Biden leads Trump by 11 points nationally MORE's nominee to be the next Pentagon chief over ethics concerns related to his earlier employment at a top defense firm.

Warren said Army Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperTrump marks Memorial Day at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Fort McHenry Pentagon charts its own course on COVID-19, risking Trump's ire Birx: 'I'm very concerned when people go out and don't maintain social distancing' MORE should not be confirmed as Defense secretary unless he takes additional steps to further distance himself from his previous employer, Raytheon.

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“Secretary Esper, the American people deserve to know that you’re making decisions in our country’s best security interest, not in your own financial interest,” Warren said during Esper's confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “You can’t make those commitments to this committee, that means you should not be confirmed as secretary of Defense.”

Esper who recently had to step aside as acting Defense secretary to complete the nomination process, was Raytheon’s vice president for government relations from 2010 to 2017, a role that Warren said raises red flags about potential conflicts of interest since the company has defense contracts worth billions of dollars.

Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate, raised similar concerns last week in a letter to Esper when she urged him to extend his commitment to recuse himself from matters involving Raytheon through the duration of his tenure at the Pentagon. Esper in 2017 signed a two-year agreement saying he will not be involved in matters related to Raytheon, but that agreement ends in November.

Esper insisted Tuesday that Pentagon ethics advisers recommended he not extend the recusal.

“I’ve lived an ethical life. I'm going to continue to live by those ethics, those principles, whether it involves Raytheon or any other company for that matter,” he said.

It would be difficult for Esper to stay out of all Raytheon-related decisions, as the firm holds numerous Pentagon contracts. A full recusal could prevent him from reaching out to the firm if issues arise with a particular contract or system.

The exchange between Warren and Esper quickly grew heated, with Warren questioning him on at least $1 million in deferred payments from Raytheon which he is set to receive after 2022.

Warren — who in May introduced legislation that would impose a lifetime ban on former lawmakers and Cabinet members from lobbying — asked Esper if he would commit to forgoing employment with a defense contractor, or payments of any kind from a defense firm, for at least four years after his government service.

“No senator, I will not,” Esper replied.

“I went to war for this country, I served overseas for this country, I’ve stepped down from jobs that have paid me well more than what I was working anywhere else, and each time it was to serve the public good and to serve the young men and women of our armed services,” he said. “So no, I disagree. I think the presumption is, for some reason, anybody who comes from the business or the corporate world is corrupt.”

Warren continued to question Esper until Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Major space launch today; Trump feuds with Twitter Justice Department closing stock investigations into Loeffler, Inhofe, Feinstein OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Esper escalates war of words with Warren, Democratic senators | Senate panel plans to skip DHS, VA spending bills MORE (R-Okla.) ended the exchange.

“This is outrageous,” Warren replied.

 

 

Following the sparring, GOP committee members came to Esper's defense.

“I’m very disappointed that Sen. Warren would demonize you after your decades of service simply because you served in the private sector," said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). "I guess she just needed a moment for her presidential campaign.”

Inhofe told Esper that the exchange “was unfair and you handled it beautifully.”

The debate is unlikely to derail Esper’s nomination, as lawmakers are keen to see the role filled on a permanent basis. The post has been held by acting secretaries since the beginning of the year, after former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Pentagon watchdog sidelined by Trump resigns | Plan would reportedly bring troops in Afghanistan back by Election Day | Third service member dies from COVID-19 Trump wants troops in Afghanistan back stateside by Election Day: report 'Never Trump' Republicans: Fringe, or force to be reckoned with? MORE left at the end of December.