December 13, 2019

ICYMI: Rep. Moulton Grills Military's Most Seniors Leaders on Trump's Pardons, Retreat from Iran Deal

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Yesterday, Representative Seth Moulton (D-MA) questioned Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, the military’s highest-ranking officer, and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, the military’s civilian leader, about President Trump’s decision to pardon Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher and two other service members. Two of the three service members were convicted of offenses of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice by a jury of their peers. The third self-reported a crime.

The exchange came during a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee about U.S. policy in Syria on Thursday afternoon.

Video of the exchange is available here.

Moulton also asked Secretary of Defense Esper about the president’s decision to retreat from the Iran Deal.

The exchange came a week after Moulton published an op-ed in Time outlining the consequences of President Trump’s pardoning of service members, including Gallagher.

Esper recently demanded the resignation of Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer for refusing to reinstate Gallagher’s prestigious Navy SEAL insignia after the president pardoned him.

Full Transcript of the Exchange:

Moulton: Secretary Esper, I’d like to just start with you. Regarding Iran, it is my understanding that the administration’s three objectives for Iran are: to limit their nuclear weapons capability, to deter regional aggression, and to bring Iran back to the negotiating table to get a stronger deal. Is that correct?

Esper: I’m going to cast it a little bit differently, our overall goal is to get Iran to be a normal country, that behaves normally. The key aspects that we are focusing on are actually...four things. Nuclear weapons: they can’t have access to nuclear weapons or the means to produce them. Number two: missiles. Number three: their aggressive, malign behavior throughout the region and beyond. And then, number four is hostage taking.

Moulton: Ok so, hostage taking has never been stated before, but let’s focus on the first three that we can all agree on. Since President Trump pulled out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, against the best advice of Secretary Mattis, his Secretary of Defense; Chairman Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; literally hundreds—hundreds—of military and national security professionals; even many who were opposed to signing the deal initially but recognized the national security risk of pulling out and breaking our word as a country and breaking our word to our closest allies in the world—since doing that, have you seen any evidence of success for the administration’s strategy?

Esper: Yes I have, in the context that (the) maximum pressure campaign has denied them resources because of the dramatic effect it has had on its economy. We have seen the Europeans make movements in our direction. You saw the Europeans expressing concerns about how Iran has been violating the deal…

Moulton: Ok I’m sorry, but Europeans aren’t listed as part of the strategy. These are the goals: the goal is to limit their nuclear weapons capability, and Iran is now advancing their nuclear weapons capability. They’re much closer to having a nuclear bomb than they were under the deal. International and American inspectors verified that they were following the deal. Since pulling out, Iran has advanced their nuclear weapons capability.

Now the second point was deterring aggression. Now, Iran was attacking us before. I mean, Iran attacked America in Iraq. I have friends who were grievously wounded and killed by Iranian weapons in Iraq. Iran has now rejoined those attacks, and we’ve gone through all the ways that Iran’s regional aggression has picked up. But it was pretty quiet under the deal. There’s no question those attacks have picked up since we pulled out.

Esper: I’m not sure that’s...what we saw after the deal was consummated and their money was returned to them, what we saw was an uptick in activities and in terms of their missile production as well.

Moulton: Oh wait, so you’d say there’s less activity now than when we had the deal? I mean they weren’t attacking Saudi oil fields. I think that’s just an absurd conclusion, and that’s obviously not true. Now on the third point, getting Iran to the negotiating table, we were with them at the negotiating table. We had lines of communication with them under the JCPOA. We do not have those lines of communication now. Have you seen any evidence that they are coming back to the negotiating table to negotiate a stronger deal to further limit their nuclear weapons capability?

Esper: Ah..No. But...that is the aim...

Moulton: Thank you Mr. Secretary.

Esper: Well there’s more of an answer to this question as well.

Moulton: No, I understand the Administration wants to talk about the “maximum pressure campaign” and all the ways its hurting their economy and everything, but I’m just holding you to your stated strategy. To your stated strategy, and on all three points, the administration’s strategy is failing. The administration is worse off, we are worse off, we are less safe than we were under the JCPOA. I have only a minute left so I want to make sure the general...

Esper (interrupting): I’m not sure you can make that statement. I think strategies take time to play out. And I think if you look not everybody agreed to include United States...JCPOA was (inaudible)

Moulton: Ok fine look Mr. Secretary, you might be right in the future, but we’re looking at this today. And there’s no evidence that this is working.

Moulton: General Milley I’d like to just go on to you. Thank you for your earlier clarification about the three servicemen. Because, to your point, innocent until proven guilty, only two of them have been convicted of war crimes. So we have two out of three who are war criminals. Now, I received a text from a sergeant major (in the) Marines after this happened. And he said:

“Trump involving himself in all the cases of these guys who conducted themselves inappropriately in a combat zone like Eddie Gallagher is appalling, basically setting a precedent that the rule of law in a combat zone doesn’t apply, and encourages folks to start burning villages and pillaging like Genghis Khan. And if you don’t like your ruling just tell Trump personally, and he’ll overturn it. The man has greatly marginalized the positions of the service leaders.”

Is this sergeant major of Marines wrong?

Milley: I think that the Uniformed Code of Military Justice and the means by which we maintain good order and discipline are a critical element in order to maintain that capability and some level of humanity in combat zones. And, I think it’s critical. I understand where the sergeant major is coming from, and I know the advice that was given, which I’m not going to share here. But, the President of the United States is part of the process, and he has the legal authorities to do what he did, and he weighed the conditions and the situations as he saw fit. He is part of the process. We do maintain and we will maintain good order and discipline. We will not turn into a gang of raping and burning and pillaging throughout as that sergeant major implies. That is not going to happen.

Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith: I’m sorry, but we are way overtime.

Moulton: General Look, let’s just be careful here. Look this is a sergeant major (in the) Marines. He got a Purple Heart and a Navy Cross and we are defending the actions of a draft dodger, our president.

Milley: I am not defending anyone’s actions.

Milley: I respect your views and the sergeant major’s views.

Smith: I just want to say to conclude: Yes, the president is part of the process, but the way he is being part of the process is unhelpful as Mr. Moulton has described.