More than a month after a national debate over the role of the military in response to protests concerning racial inequity and police brutality, Pentagon leaders will belated appear before Congress next week to testify about the scope and legality of such missions.
Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee had hoped to summon Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley to Capitol Hill earlier this month to discuss the issue.
Defense leaders said those plans were upended by scheduling problems, but committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., suggested in public statements that White House officials were blocking the move in an effort to undermine oversight and avoid controversy.
On Tuesday, Smith announced that the two men will answer questions from the committee on July 9 at 1 p.m. for a hearing titled “Department of Defense authorities and roles related to civilian law enforcement.”
The two military leaders will face a mix of in-person and online questions from members, in keeping with current House coronavirus prevention measures.
The debate over military involvement in the protest response comes after more than 40,000 National Guard members at the peak were activated in cities throughout the country in the wake of protests related to the death of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man prosecutors say was murdered by a white Minneapolis police officer during an arrest on non-violent charges on May 25.
Four officers have been charged with crimes in connection with his death. Tens of thousands of protesters have taken part in demonstrations since then demanding changes in police tactics and a broader response to the problem of racism in society.
At the height of the protests, Trump indicated he might invoke the Insurrection Act to “dominate” U.S. cities and stop demonstrations he blamed on “professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, and rioters.”
He also announced that Milley would head up the military response to the problem, but defense officials never clarified if that was a new role and if that involved granting any new authorities for military troops on U.S. soil.
Smith and other committee Democrats have accused Trump of obscuring clear lines of separation between active-duty military responsibilities and state-controlled National Guard missions.
Army officials are still conducting an investigation into the decision by some personnel on June 1 to use two DCNG helicopters to conduct low flights over the streets of Washington, D.C. in an effort to disperse protesters. The incident caused minor property damage and drew widespread outrage as military overreach.
Esper and Milley are likely to face questions on a host of other military topics during their appearance before lawmakers, including recent allegations that administration officials ignored intelligence reports that indicated Russian officials offered financial incentives to Taliban fighters to kill U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.