- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper accused 10 Democratic senators of making “misleading, false or inaccurate statements” in an April 27 letter to him accusing the Pentagon of failing to adequately respond to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The letter, signed by Elizabeth Warren, Kamala D. Harris and Amy Klobuchar, three senators thought to be on likely Democratic presidential candidate Joseph R. Biden’s list for Vice President, accused civilian leadership in the Defense Department for not acting quickly to head off the virus and prioritizing readiness over the health of military personnel and their families.

“This failure has adversely affected morale and, despite the Department’s best intentions, undermined readiness,” the letter stated.

At a Pentagon press conference on Tuesday, Mr. Esper told reporters he was “disappointed” that members of Congress who regularly receive military briefings as members of the Senate Armed Services Committee would write such a letter.

“I don’t think it really recognizes all that the Department of Defense has done - particularly at a time when we have 62,000 Americans out in the street who are in many cases risking their own lives to protect the American people,” he said.

Mr. Esper said thousands of U.S. military personnel, especially those in the medical field, are currently deployed in coronavirus hot zones to protect the American people.

“I’m disappointed in that letter. It doesn’t represent the facts,” he said.

The governors of each state where the letter signatories come from praised the Defense Department’s coronavirus response efforts and thanked them for what they’ve done, he said.

“Every step of the way, we’ve been ahead of the curve. We’ve met their needs and we’ve done everything we can to help the American people,” Mr. Esper said.

The eight-page letter cites several examples of where the Democratic senators say the Pentagon has failed in its coronavirus mission, including what they refer to as a “failed response” to the outbreak aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt.

“The lack of guidance provided by the highest levels of the Department of Defense is obvious in light of the varied responses to coronavirus implemented by different military commands. Even components under the same combatant commander responded differently, in absence of cohesive guidance from leadership,” the senators wrote in their letter.

They also accused Mr. Esper of issuing “contradictory decisions” across the services, such as the Army moving exclusively to virtual recruiting while the Marine Corps continues to allow recruiters to meet with possible candidates for enlistment.

Mr. Esper said he regularly speaks with the GOP and Democratic leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee and provides Congress with “complete, accurate and timely information” every week about their activities.

“Congress has an important oversight role but it should be an informed oversight role,” he said.

Mr. Esper also rejected claims from the senators that military installation-specific COVID-19 data is being withheld.

“We share that data all the time with state, local and federal authorities,” he said.

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