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OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: 12 removed from National Guard inauguration security | Austin backs lifting transgender ban

OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: 12 removed from National Guard inauguration security | Austin backs lifting transgender ban
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Happy Tuesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: The Army National Guard has removed 12 members from their role in President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration security, according to National Guard Bureau Chief Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson.

Two individuals were flagged for “inappropriate comments or texts” — one identified through their chain of command and another through anonymous reporting — while an additional 10 were identified by the FBI through “standard” vetting done on participants before all inaugurations, Hokanson told reporters on Tuesday.

“If there’s any identification or anything whatsoever that needs to be looked into, out of an abundance of caution, we automatically pull those personnel off the line and make sure that they’re not part of the mission set, and in certain cases, we make sure that we get them sent home,” Hokanson said.

Why they were ousted: The Associated Press reported earlier on Tuesday that the two Guardsmen were being sent home after they were found to have ties to fringe right group militias, though no plot against Biden was found. 

Top Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said the group of 10 other individuals were flagged during the FBI vetting process “for a number of different reasons unrelated to the events here.”

“These are vetting efforts that identify any questionable behavior in the past or any potential link to questionable behavior not just related to extremism,” Hoffman said alongside Hokanson. “It’s a lot of looking back at anything that could potentially flag in a criminal history check, anything that could come up in a civilian database that’s being scrubbed by our partners. We’re not taking any chances. Anything flagged, if there’s any reason that somebody’s name is brought to the attention of the command, they’re being removed from the line.”

‘Ask questions later’: Hoffman added that the Pentagon will “ask questions later and ascertain whether any action needs to be taken” by law enforcement or the individual’s chain of command.

The two officials would not say what criteria would flag a Guardsman deployed for the inauguration.

There’s no “handbook on what are our thresholds [are] for inappropriateness at this point,” Hoffman said.

“If our law enforcement partners flag an individual ... we’re not even asking what the flag was, we’re just removing them.”

Thousands in DC: About 25,000 National Guard service members have been deployed to D.C. to assist with security ahead of the Wednesday inauguration following the violent insurrection on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. A pro-Trump mob overwhelmed police and broke into the Capitol building after Trump encouraged rally-goers to march to the building while lawmakers met to certify Biden's Electoral College win. 

The attack resulted in five deaths and more than 100 arrests thus far, with a handful of current or former military personnel linked to the riot and charged, including Jacob Fracker, an off-duty police officer who was a corporal in the Virginia National Guard.

New background checks: The FBI has since begun to run background checks on the Guardsmen activated for the inauguration, a move stemming from fears among defense officials that those responsible for security at the event could participate in an insider attack.

Hoffman said that information that would mark an individual for inauguration duty removal would not necessarily get them booted from the service.

“It’s a piece of information and at this point of time we don’t have the timeframe in which to run down every single piece of information and determine that an individual should not be a part of the military or not,” he said.

The officials could not say how many of the 25,000 Guardsmen had been investigated by the FBI thus far, though the Bureau has assured the Pentagon it would complete all vetting prior to the Wednesday event.

More related stories from The Hill:

— Acting Defense secretary says 'no intelligence' indicating insider threat to inauguration

— Threats transform capital into military zone ahead of inauguration

— Fear of insider attack prompts additional FBI screening of National Guard troops: AP

— Thousands of troops dig in for inauguration

— FBI intel report warned QAnon followers discussed posing as National Guard at inauguration: report

AUSTIN SUPPORTS LIFTING TRANSGENDER MILITARY BAN: Ret. Gen. Lloyd Austin, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Pentagon, said Tuesday he supports overturning the Trump administration’s ban on most transgender military service.

“I support the president's plan to overturn the ban,” Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing Tuesday. “I truly believe, senator, as I said in my opening statement, that if you are fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve.

A reassurance: That Biden’s nominee supports his plan to overturn a controversial Trump administration policy is not surprising, but the unequivocal answer will reassure advocates who have been pushing Biden to quickly reverse the policy.

“It’s heartening that Defense Secretary-designate Lloyd Austin fully understands the urgency of ending the military’s harmful transgender ban,” Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, said in a statement Tuesday. “Very little needs to be done administratively to finally end discrimination against transgender troops, and we look forward to the arrival of fully inclusive policy very soon.”

Biden’s past promise: During the presidential campaign, Biden indicated that lifting the ban on transgender military service would be a “day one” priority, but the transition has not confirmed the exact timing of when Biden will act on the matter.

Austin also did not say when Biden would lift the ban, though Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in her question to Austin quoted Biden’s campaign comments on doing it on “day one.”

Previous administration’s stances: The Obama administration, in which Biden was vice president, lifted the previous ban on transgender military service in 2016.

But in 2017, Trump tweeted he would reverse the open service policy, saying he would “not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” A policy meant to fulfill Trump’s order that bars most transgender people from serving in the military unless they do so in their biological sex took effect in 2019.

Other hearing topics: Austin also pledged Tuesday to take several steps to ensure civilian Defense Department officials are empowered if he is confirmed amid concerns about another recently retired general leading the Pentagon.

“Let me say at the outset that I understand and respect the reservations some of you have expressed about having another recently retired general at the head of the Department of Defense,” Austin said in his opening statement during his Senate confirmation hearing.

“The safety and security of our democracy demands competent civilian control of our Armed Forces, the subordination of military power to the civil,” he continued. “I spent my entire life committed to that principle. In war and in peace, I implemented the policies of civilians elected and appointed over me.”

More related stories from The Hill:

— House panel scraps Thursday hearing with Biden Pentagon nominee

— House to vote Thursday on waiver for Biden's Defense chief pick

— 15 former Defense officials back waiver for Austin to serve as Defense secretary

ARMY SECRETARY KNOCKS ‘OVERLY BUREAUCRATIC’ RIOT MILITARY RESPONSE: Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy is faulting Pentagon bureaucracy in the wake of deadly rioting at the U.S. Capitol and criticism of the military's response to the siege.

"There's too many people that are involved with the decision, and ultimately no one, one single person responsible," McCarthy said in a Monday interview with CNN. "It makes it very difficult and slow in the response."

Calls for a change: McCarthy called for a revamp of what he described as “almost arcane and overly bureaucratic” procedures for calling the National Guard into Washington, D.C. Hours passed between when violent mobs of President Trump's supporters breached the Capitol and when the Guard was activated.

"You saw a lot of people run into friction in support of the Capitol Hill police” while coordinating the response, McCarthy said. “It came far too close. Something like this should never happen. This country has the talent and the resources to do anything. But the pre-planning and coordination and the intelligence were not really managed well, and we were not in a position to be successful that day as a country.”

McCarthy described “tremendous confusion” among the military and law enforcement during the riots, admitting he “didn’t have great understanding” of the situation on the ground even as he “ran down the hall” to seek authorization to deploy the Guard. McCarthy also said the military had not been asked to help in the lead-up to the incident, compounding the confusion.

Denials: Defense officials have denied allegations that anyone at the Pentagon denied requests for aid. A senior Pentagon official said the response was delayed because the department only received a request stating “We need help” with no further details, according to CNN.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association will hold a virtual forum on Army information technology with Army Maj. Gen. Maria Barrett and Army Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. John Morrison at 10 a.m. https://afceanova.swoogo.com/20tharmyitday?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20011921_01/19/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

ICYMI

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— The Hill: Opinion: Why playing the long game is necessary to address the Capitol insurrection

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