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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 SmithThe pandemic and a 'rainy day fund' for American charity House Democrat accuses Air Force of attempting to influence Georgia runoff races US national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration 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 EsperOvernight Defense: Trump loyalist to lead Pentagon transition | Democrats ask VA for vaccine distribution plan | Biden to get classified intel reports Ex-Nunes aide linked to Biden conspiracy theories will lead Pentagon transition Brennan takes final shot at Trump: 'I leave his fate to our judicial system, his infamy to history, & his legacy to a trash heap' MORE and Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyIsraeli military instructed to prepare for Trump strike on Iran: report Top Pentagon official tests positive for COVID-19 Khamenei adviser says US could spark 'full-fledged war' with strike 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 SlotkinBickering Democrats return with divisions Questions swirl at Pentagon after wave of departures Overnight Defense: Another Defense official resigns | Pentagon chief says military 'remains strong' despite purge | Top contender for Biden DOD secretary would be historic pick MORE (D-Mich.) and Mikie SherrillRebecca (Mikie) Michelle SherrillDemocratic Women's Caucus members split endorsements for House campaign chief Overnight Defense: Armed Services chairman unsold on slashing defense budget | Democratic Senate report details 'damage, chaos' of Trump foreign policy | Administration approves .8B Taiwan arms sales Democratic House chairman trusts Pentagon won't follow 'unlawful orders' on election involvement 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.”