Nomination hearing: Warren questions defense watchdog nominee on investigating deployment of military forces against protestors
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
"We need watchdogs at the DOD who will safeguard our democracy - even if it means preventing the President from turning the military into his own personal militia."
On August 6 in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) questioned Jason Abend, nominee to be the Department of Defense (DOD) Inspector General, raising questions about his lack of experience, his ability to act as an independent watchdog and whether he would investigate the use of military forces to quell protests, as the President did in Washington, DC's Lafayette Square.
The full transcript and video of her exchange with the hearing witnesses is available below.
Thursday, August 6, 2020
U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs
Senator Elizabeth Warren: Mr. Abend, the Defense Department Inspector General is one of the most important IG positions in all of government. And if confirmed, you will lead an office of nearly 1,500 investigators, auditors, other staff. They're going to be responsible for investigating waste, fraud, abuse across the department whose budget accounts for half of all federal discretionary spending.
Now, this job requires someone with experience in leading large organizations and overseeing high-profile investigations, as well as someone who can exercise strong independence.
So, Mr. Abend, in the past three -- the past three Defense Department IGs -- all came into this role having been IGs at other, smaller agencies. Have you ever been an Inspector General for any federal or state agency?
Jason Abend: No. I have not, Senator.
Senator Elizabeth Warren: Well, President Trump has already fired or removed 5 Inspectors General this year alone, including the IG who you have been nominated to replace. It seems clear to me that the President doesn't believe Inspectors General should be investigating his administration.
Now, despite your obvious lack of experience, I know you're going to say that you are committed to being independent and resisting political pressure. And frankly, it's easy to say that in a confirmation hearing when you want the big promotion. So instead of asking you that, I just want to get more specific.
The President has already shown an interest in using military forces to quell peaceful protests.
He did it right here in Washington's Lafayette Square just two months ago. It's an abuse of power, and it is a disturbing misuse of our military.
If the Department of Defense leadership allowed military forces to deploy to American cities in response to people who are exercising their First Amendment rights, is that something you would consider investigating?
Jason Abend: Senator, any time there's an expenditure that involves the Department of Defense that falls under the purview of the Inspector General's office. In that hypothetical situation, there's an expenditure being appropriated towards the movement of troops or what not that would fall under consideration for review by the Inspector General's office.
Senator Elizabeth Warren: Good. I appreciate that. You know, I hope we never see another Lafayette Square or similar incident again, but I am glad to hear you say that such an episode may lead to the rise of an investigation.
You know, I appreciate your past public service and I know that you would tell us that you're going to be independent, but I'm concerned that the President has picked you for this job precisely because he believes that you will not stand up to him.
So, let me just be really clear about this. Over the past several months, the President has repeatedly worked to delegitimize the upcoming election. He's deployed federal troops to exercise force against peaceful protestors, and last week, he proposed delaying the election. Failing to take these actions seriously is a mistake for both Democrats and Republicans. We need watchdogs at the DOD who will safeguard our democracy - even if it means preventing the President from turning the military into his own personal militia.
Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.