Army briefs House panel on response to DC protests

Army briefs House panel on response to DC protests
© Bonnie Cash

Army leaders briefed members of House Armed Services Committee on Monday about the military branch's response to protests in Washington, D.C., over racial injustices, a committee spokeswoman said Monday.

“Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyOvernight Defense: Trump's battle with Pentagon poses risks in November | Lawmakers launch Fort Hood probe | Military members can't opt out of tax deferral Lawmakers launch investigation into Fort Hood after 28th death this year Overnight Defense: China aims to double nuclear arsenal | Fort Hood commander removed after string of deaths MORE spoke to members today about the department’s support to the D.C. protest response,” Monica Matoush said in a statement.

The briefing comes after the committee said McCarthy canceled a planned informal briefing at the last minute Friday.

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The committee also said Friday that Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Stopgap spending measure awaits Senate vote | Trump nominates former Nunes aide for intelligence community watchdog | Trump extends ban on racial discrimination training to contractors, military Overnight Defense: Pentagon redirects pandemic funding to defense contractors | US planning for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May | Anti-Trump GOP group puts ads in military papers Official: Pentagon has started 'prudent planning' for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May MORE and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley have “refused” to testify this week as requested.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithWhen 'Buy American' and common sense collide Overnight Defense: Marine Corps brushes off criticism of Marines' appearance in GOP convention video | US troops injured in collision with Russian vehicle in Syria | Dems ask for probe of Vindman retaliation allegations Democrats press Pentagon watchdog to probe allegations of retaliation against Vindman brothers MORE (D-Wash.) “remains adamant that Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley testify before the committee to give an on-the-record account leading up to the events in the military’s response in the District, including the clearing of demonstrators in Lafayette Square and the helicopter response in the area, as well as engage in a more broad policy discussion about the use of military service members during civil unrest,” Matoush said Monday.

Last week, Smith called for Esper and Milley to testify before his panel this week after President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden on Trump's refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power: 'What country are we in?' Romney: 'Unthinkable and unacceptable' to not commit to peaceful transition of power Two Louisville police officers shot amid Breonna Taylor grand jury protests MORE threatened to deploy active-duty troops to quell protests across the country and protesters in Lafayette Square outside the White House were forcefully cleared from the area just before Trump walked to a photo-op at nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Esper and Milley, who was wearing combat fatigues, accompanied Trump to the church.

About 1,600 active-duty soldiers were dispatched to the D.C. region last week to be ready to deploy into the city if required, but Esper ordered them home Thursday and Friday without having entered the District. 

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On Friday night, Smith and the rest of the committee’s Democrats said it was "unacceptable” that Esper and Milley would not testify.

"Our military leaders are sworn to be accountable to the people of this country, and Congress is constitutionally responsible for oversight. They must appear and testify on these crucial matters in order to meet that responsibility,” they said in a joint statement.

"Apparently, the Trump administration believes they have no obligation to explain their actions to Congress or respect our constitutional system of checks and balances," the lawmakers added.

The Pentagon has pushed back on the Democrats’ characterization that Esper and Milley refused to testify, with chief spokesman Jonathan Hoffman saying in statement over the weekend that the pair "have not 'refused' to testify" and that the department's “legislative affairs team remains in discussion" with the committee. He also pointed to the Army's plan to brief the panel Monday.

Asked for Monday comment on the Armed Services Committee’s latest statement, the Pentagon told The Hill it had no additional comment beyond Hoffman's weekend statement.

Updated at 8:52 p.m.