WASHINGTON — The Pentagon appears to be following the White House lead in unilaterally deciding what members of Congress can see and cannot see — despite long-followed procedures.
According to a May 8 memo obtained by the Washington Post, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has ordered a tightening of information the Pentagon shares with Congress about military operations around the world, even with members with high security clearances.
“The memo was shared widely inside the Pentagon but was sent to key lawmakers only after inquiries by The Post. It outlines a half-dozen guidelines, including requirements that military officials and political appointees evaluate whether the request ‘contains sufficient information to demonstrate a relationship to the legislative function.’ The memo urges Defense Department officials to provide a summary briefing rather than a requested plan or order itself,” the Post reported.
The Trump administration has increasing blocked Congressional access to documents, as well as testimony by individuals before committees.
Shanahan’s effort to censor information to members of Congress, especially those with security clearances, caused a bipartisan explosion on Capitol Hill.
“Congress oversees the Department of Defense; but with this new policy, the department is overstepping its authority by presuming to determine what warrants legislative oversight,” Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Mac Thornberr (R-Tex.), the chair and ranking Republican of the House Armed Services Committee, respectively, said in a release.
“The Department is not in a position to evaluate defense committees’ worthiness to receive classified information, nor characterize our ability to appropriately protect it,” they said.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters he saw the memo over the weekend, once the Post made inquiries. He said it “seems to be another way in which they can claim that they don’t need to respond to legitimate inquiry of Congress.”
Shanahan, who promised more transparency within the Pentagon and with Capitol Hill, as well as more media availability, is tentatively to appear for conformation hearings in June.
Reed and other House and Senate members have fumed about being left in the dark about the threat from Iran, the White House has proclaimed. They also have grown irritated by the repeated failure of Shanahan to keep his promises to provide a wide range of information on a plethora of subjects.
“From what I can glean from the memorandum basically they can use any factor they want to say no and they can make a determination what they think we need to do our job,” Reed told the Post. “I think we’re better positioned to determine what we need to do our job.”