Trump's defense secretary is defying Congress to hide military information


Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan issued a memo telling military officials to stonewall Congress.

In a story that's now all too familiar, there's yet another Trump appointee who sees himself and his agency as above the law. This time, it's Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

The Washington Post obtained a memo that Shanahan issued earlier this month ordering the military to limit what information is shared with Congress. Political appointees and military officials are instructed to evaluate whether a congressional request has "sufficient information to demonstrate a relationship to the legislative function."

That sounds an awful lot like Steven Mnuchin's discredited reason for withholding Trump's tax returns. Mnuchin is claiming that the request to see Trump's taxes "lacks a legitimate legislative purpose."

It's no accident that the reasons sound similar. Refusing to provide information to Congress is a hallmark of this administration. Trump and his cronies are currently stonewalling Congress on at least 30 investigations. And those aren't just investigations into Trump's misdeeds. Congress is also looking into the administration's obscenely poor response to Hurricane Maria and its brutal family separation policy, but it's frequently stymied.

Shanahan also told Defense Department officials that when Congress requests access to a military plan or order they should provide a summary briefing instead. Ostensibly, this is because he's concerned that members of Congress won't appropriately safeguard military information. However, members of Congress have security clearances that allow them to access that material, and it isn't Shanahan's call to decide if they deserve it.

The memo also makes clear that Shanahan is highly interested in protecting Trump. Officials were told to assess "whether the request implicates presidential decision-making or the President's prerogatives as the Commander in Chief." Given his past behavior, it seems very likely that Trump would insist that all military material he'd prefer kept secret implicates his decision-making.

Shanahan's actions here are so appalling that he drew bipartisan criticism, a rarity in this polarized age. House Armed Services Committee Chair Adam Smith and Rep. Mac Thornberry, the ranking Republican member, issued a joint statement saying that if Shanahan's policy were implemented, it would "dramatically limit Congress' ability to execute our constitutional prerogative."

The executive branch no longer sees itself as a co-equal branch of government and aggressively ignores the fact that Congress is constitutionally mandated to provide oversight. It's another example of the depressing reality under Trump.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.