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Democratic House chairman trusts Pentagon won't follow 'unlawful orders' on election involvement

Democratic House chairman trusts Pentagon won't follow 'unlawful orders' on election involvement
© Greg Nash

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithBiden seeks to walk fine line with Syria strike Overnight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided House on full display MORE (D-Wash.) said Wednesday he trusts Pentagon leaders to follow the law regarding military involvement in any election-related disputes.

“I trust the Pentagon to follow the law and to not basically follow unlawful orders, and to respect the Constitution,” Smith, who said he has discussed the issue with Pentagon leadership, told reporters on a conference call.

“And I think both Secretary Esper and Chairman Milley have been clear on that, that their loyalty is to the law, their loyalty is to the Constitution, their loyalty is not to any one person,” Smith added, referring 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 and Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyFemale generals' promotions held back over fears of Trump's response: report Biden emphasizes diversity in first visit to Pentagon Pentagon: Extremist groups recruit from military MORE, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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Questions about military involvement in the presidential election continue to swirl as President Trump has sometimes not said he will accept the results of November’s election or commit to a peaceful transition of power.

Casting doubt on the integrity of mail-in ballots despite no evidence of widespread fraud, Trump in a White House press briefing last month said “we’re going to have to see what happens” when asked to commit to a peaceful transition of power.

The next day, the White House said Trump would accept the results of a “free and fair election” but continued to rail against mail-in ballots.

Trump sowing doubt about the election comes amid a backdrop of him repeatedly using or threatening to use the military in domestic issues.

Over the summer, Trump threatened to deploy active-duty troops to quell widespread protests against racial injustice and police violence. After Trump made the threat, Esper held a news conference at the Pentagon announcing his opposition to using active-duty troops against protesters.

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Two Democratic members of Smith’s panel recently posed questions to Esper and Milley about whether they would refuse an order to send active-duty troops to the polls on Election Day and would commit to facilitating a peaceful transition of power, among other potential scenarios.

Milley told the lawmakers he saw no role for U.S. troops to play in resolving any electoral dispute.

Esper, though, would only say that “the U.S. military has acted, and will continue to act, in accordance with the Constitution and the law.”

Esper’s response drew criticism from the two lawmakers, Reps. Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinTwo men charged with making threatening calls to Michigan officials House Democrats request documents from DHS intelligence office about Jan. 6 attack Lawmakers mull domestic terrorism statute in wake of Jan. 6 attack MORE (D-Mich.) and Mikie SherrillRebecca (Mikie) Michelle SherrillTim Ryan: Prosecutors reviewing video of Capitol tours given by lawmakers before riot Calls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack Belfast's Troubles echo in today's Washington MORE (D-N.J.), who argued Esper needed to be as unequivocal as Milley.

On Wednesday, Smith said while he trusts the Pentagon, it is important for his panel to keep pressing the issue.

“I think it's really important that our committee exercise oversight to drive home that point,” he said. “I want to particularly thank Mikie Sherrill on our committee, who I know has been very focused on this issue and has been putting pressure on the Pentagon to make sure that they do just. I think it’s important that we drive home that point given how erratic this president can be, and we’ll continue to do so.”