“Apparently, the Trump Administration believes they have no obligation to explain their actions to Congress or respect our constitutional system of checks and balances,” the lawmakers said.
A briefing set for Friday with Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy was also canceled. The Democrats demanded information on the Pentagon’s response to the protests by Monday and called for Esper and Milley to testify “shortly thereafter.”
“As we head into a weekend with protests planned across the country, this briefing to Members of Congress was vitally important to discuss the Department’s plan to ensure the safety of Americans exercising their right to protest and service members working to keep the peace,” the lawmakers said.
A Pentagon spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Democratic lawmakers, along with former military and civilian defense officials, have criticized Esper and Milley for their actions — including accompanying Trump to a photo op near the White House after police used chemicals to clear Lafayette Square of protesters.
The panel also plans to receive testimony from former defense officials on the use of the military domestically.
The panel’s top Republican, Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, does not endorse Smith’s effort to get Pentagon brass on the record.
Thornberry said this week that a hearing on the Insurrection Act would be appropriate if Trump invokes the law, but argued that the military’s role in the protests should be weighed alongside the handful of other unanticipated missions, including responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
“As Ranking Member Thornberry has said, our military is currently undertaking a number of missions that are not part of their normal duties,” Armed Services Republican spokesperson Claude Chafin said in a statement. “These include COVID-19 response, managing Defense Production Act contracts, and National Guard support to civil authorities, and it is important that the Committee hear from the Department to understand how those missions are affecting DOD’s resources and priorities.
“The timing of that exchange and the witnesses or briefers must, as always, be coordinated with the Department,” Chafin said.