Report

Democrats Make Last-Ditch Effort to Kill a Trump Pentagon Nomination

Senators told Trump’s pick to lead the Defense Department’s policy shop that his views are “wholly incompatible with the U.S. military’s values.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on July 22. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Democrats are urging U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial pick to lead the Defense Department’s policy shop to withdraw his nomination over offensive and conspiratorial tweets, according to a new letter shared with Foreign Policy.

In a last-ditch attempt to force Anthony Tata to give up his White House-backed bid to become the undersecretary of defense for policy, 10 Democratic lawmakers, led by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, argue that the retired Army brigadier general has a record of “offensive and inflammatory comments” that disqualify him from taking the job.

CNN previously reported that Tata had characterized former President Barack Obama as a “terrorist leader” and floated a conspiratorial claim that former CIA Director John Brennan had ordered the assassination of Trump via a coded message on social media. Tata, whose confirmation hearing is slated for Thursday, apologized in a letter to the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, calling on the panel to judge him on a “30+ year career and record of achievement and not a few regrettable tweets.” 

But the about-face has done little to quell anger among Senate Democrats, led by Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking member of the Armed Services panel, who uncharacteristically announced that he would not support the nomination ahead of a confirmation hearing. Foreign Policy first reported that Tata will have a Senate hearing on Thursday, preceded by a closed session on Tuesday aimed at firming up wavering votes for an embattled pick.

“Your letter to committee leadership appears to be a conveniently timed retraction by someone who has suddenly realized his nomination is in jeopardy,” the signatories wrote to Tata on Monday. “But your multiple past statements cannot be dismissed simply as an aberration.”

“Your views are wholly incompatible with the U.S. military’s values,” the senators concluded. Other signatories include Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, all members of the committee. 

But the Trump administration could install Tata in another senior defense role if his nomination flounders in Congress, as Politico first reported. Tata began serving as a senior advisor to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper earlier this year, which could allow him to move into another senior slot without answering to Capitol Hill. Tata left the Army in 2009 after an investigation found that he had committed adultery twice during a previous marriage.

Democratic senators appeared most concerned by Tata’s Islamophobic comments on Twitter and repeated attacks against lawmakers. Warren and her colleagues flagged posts by Tata calling Islam “the most oppressive violent religion that I know of” and calling Obama’s push for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal part of a “drive to subvert U.S. interests to Islam.” They also highlighted Tata’s false assertions that Obama supported Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Nominees should see the value diversity, inclusion, and unity bring to our institutions,” the senators wrote. “Unfortunately, your history of public remarks does not meet this standard.” Additionally, lawmakers flagged Tata’s branding of Democratic Reps. Maxine Waters and Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the house, as “violent extremists,” among other inflammatory epithets.

No one with a record of repeated, repugnant statements like yours should be nominated to serve in a senior position of public trust at the Pentagon,” the senators added. 

More than 50 advocacy groups have also announced their opposition to Tata’s nomination, and the Muslim civil rights advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations first pushed against the then-rumored pick over false claims in a spy novel written by the Trump favorite, which asserted that British Muslim men used gang rape as a rite of passage.  

The push for Tata’s withdrawal comes as the White House has sought to stack the Pentagon with new officials connected to former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Additionally, White House staffers are conducting interviews of Defense Department appointees that are seen as loyalty tests.

Jack Detsch is Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter. Twitter: @JackDetsch

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