Senate panel scraps confirmation hearing for controversial Pentagon nominee at last minute

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The Pentagon is shown in this Dec. 5, 2017, file photo.

The confirmation hearing for President Trump’s controversial nominee to lead the Pentagon’s policy shop was canceled less than an hour before it was set to begin on Thursday.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said the hearing was canceled because “many” Democrats and Republicans “didn’t know enough about Anthony Tata to consider him for a very significant position at this time.”

“We didn’t get the required documentation in time; some documents, which we normally get before a hearing, didn’t arrive until yesterday,” Inhofe said in a statement released about 15 minutes before the hearing had been scheduled to start. “As I told the president last night, we’re simply out of time with the August recess coming, so it wouldn’t serve any useful purpose to have a hearing at this point, and he agreed.”

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member of the committee, said in his own statement senators in both parties had “serious questions” about Tata.

“It’s fair to say members on both sides of the aisle have raised serious questions about this nominee,” Reed said. “We had a closed door session on Tuesday, and today’s public hearing has now been cancelled. Chairman Inhofe did the right thing here, and it’s clear this nomination isn’t going anywhere without a full, fair, open hearing.”

The White House did not offer comment when contacted by The Hill.

A committee spokesperson told The Hill on Thursday afternoon the panel “has not been officially notified” about any withdrawal of Tata’s nomination “as of now.” The spokesperson did not respond to a follow-up question about any informal communications.

Democrats have been calling for Tata, a retired Army brigadier general most known for his frequent guest appearances on Fox News, to withdraw from consideration as under secretary of Defense for policy since inflammatory and racist tweets were surfaced by CNN last month.

In 2018 tweets, for example, Tata called Obama a “terrorist leader” and said Islam is the “most oppressive violent religion I know of.” He also called Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) a “vicious race baiting racist” and said she and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “have always been the same violent extremists.”

In other 2018 tweets, he floated a conspiracy theory that former CIA Director John Brennan used a coded tweet to order Trump’s assassination and told Brennan to “pick his poison,” including execution or sucking “on a pistol.”

Tata has since deleted many of the offensive tweets. After CNN’s reports and after several Armed Services Democrats, including Reed, came out in opposition to Tata’s nomination, he also penned a letter to Reed and Inhofe expressing regret at the tweets and calling them an “aberration in a four decade thread of faithful public service.”

Tata has also been serving a senior adviser to Defense Secretary Mark Esper while he awaits confirmation. Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman deferred to the Armed Services Committee on future plans for Tata’s hearing, but said Tata would remain an adviser to Esper “in the meantime.”

“The general himself has stated that he does not believe or support the comments he made,” Hoffman said at a Pentagon briefing.

Ten Democrats, including five on the committee, wrote a letter to Tata released Monday calling on him to withdraw and resign as an adviser, saying that “multiple past statements cannot be dismissed simply as an aberration.”

Tata could be confirmed without any Democratic support, as nominees only require a simple majority to be confirmed.

But questions have been raised about whether he could garner enough support among Republicans, particularly from those facing reelection who would have to defend their votes on the inflammatory nominee.

At least one Republican has indicated he could oppose Tata, but not over the incendiary tweets. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said in a statement last week he would oppose Tata unless the Pentagon changes its policy against adding the names of those who died in the 1969 USS Frank E. Evans ship collision to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Morgan Chalfant contributed to this post, which was updated at 3:10 p.m.

Tags Anthony Tata Donald Trump Jack Reed James Inhofe John Brennan Kevin Cramer Mark Esper Maxine Waters Nancy Pelosi Senate Armed Services Committee

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