House panel again presses Pentagon leaders to testify on military's role in protests

House panel again presses Pentagon leaders to testify on military's role in protests
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The head of the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday upped his efforts to get senior Pentagon officials to testify before his panel on the military’s role in responding to last week’s protests in Washington, D.C.

“It is unacceptable that, except for staff communication, you have not responded to our formal written request that you and [Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley] appear before the committee for a hearing on the Department’s roles and authorities in civilian law enforcement,” Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — The Quad confab The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble House passes sweeping defense policy bill MORE (D-Wash.) wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperJan. 6 panel subpoenas four ex-Trump aides Bannon, Meadows Milley and China — what the Senate really needs to know Biden, Trump battle over who's to blame for Afghanistan MORE.

Smith also suggested the White House is preventing Esper and Milley from testifying and “obstructing Congress’ ability to conduct its constitutionally charged oversight responsibility.”

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Smith last week sent a letter to Esper, calling for him and Milley to appear before his panel after President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response MORE threatened to deploy active-duty troops to quell nation-wide protests sparked by the death of a 46-year-old, unarmed black man, George Floyd, at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Lawmakers have also sought answers on the use of National Guard troops to back law enforcement when they forcefully cleared protesters in Lafayette Square outside the White House on June 1, 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 and Esper appeared alongside the president in a photo in front of the building. 

In addition, 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. Esper ordered the troops home on Thursday and Friday without having them enter the nation’s capital.  

The House committee has since said that Esper and Milley have “refused” to testify, an assertion which the Pentagon has pushed back on. Over the weekend, top Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said that the pair "have not 'refused' to testify" and that the department's “legislative affairs team remains in discussion" with the committee.

In his Wednesday correspondence, Smith asks that the two coordinate with his committee to provide their availability no later than Thursday.

“Without your cooperation, the committee will be forced to set a hearing date and time without your input,” Smith writes.