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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 SmithHigh alert as new QAnon date approaches Thursday Overnight Defense: Tim Kaine moves to claw back war powers authority | Study on sexual harassment and assault in the military Commissioners tasked with scrubbing Confederate base names sworn-in at first meeting MORE (D-Wash.) wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperCORRECTED: Overnight Defense: COVID-19 stymies effort to study sexual assault at military academies | Biden, Saudi king speak ahead of Khashoggi report Female generals' promotions held back over fears of Trump's response: report Overnight Defense: Army details new hair and grooming standards | DC National Guard chief says Pentagon restricted his authority before riot | Colorado calls on Biden not to move Space Command 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 TrumpHouse passes voting rights and elections reform bill DEA places agent seen outside Capitol during riot on leave Georgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee 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.