The Pentagon logo is seen behind the podium in the briefing room at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, US. File/Reuters
The Pentagon's top leaders are going before Congress for the first time in months to face a long list of controversies, including their differences with President Donald Trump over the handling of protests near the White House last month during unrest triggered by the killing of George Floyd in police hands.
The House hearing Thursday will provide the first congressional testimony by Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, since March 4, when they appeared to discuss the administration's defense budget proposal. That was before the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic became apparent and before nationwide civil unrest threw the Pentagon's relations with Trump into crisis.
Trump's push for an aggressive response to the civil unrest led to an extraordinary clash with Esper and Milley, who on June 1 accompanied the president when he walked from the White House to St. John's Church on Lafayette Square, where he held up a Bible for photographers. That same day, a National Guard helicopter was flown at extremely low altitude to help disperse protesters from the capital's streets, prompting a Pentagon investigation into whether that was a proper use of military resources.
Esper drew Trump's ire for telling a Pentagon news conference that he opposed invoking the Insurrection Act to permit the president to use the armed forces to put down domestic civil unrest. Esper said he saw no need for such an extreme measure, a clear counterpoint to Trump’s threat to use force.
Esper also made known his regret at having accompanied Trump to the presidential photo opportunity in front of St. John's on the day of the Lafayette Square confrontations.
Milley later expressed public regret that he also had been part of the scene with Trump. He said he had been wrong to stride in uniform with Trump past protesters who had been cleared from Lafayette Square. Milley said his presence "created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
"I should not have been there,” he told a National Defense University commencement ceremony.
Esper and Milley also are likely to be grilled by members of the House Armed Services Committee on a simmering debate over removing the names of Confederate Army officers from U.S. Army bases and banning other Confederate symbols. That also puts them potentially at odds with Trump, who has said he opposes removing the Confederate names from bases like Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
The House and Senate versions of the 2021 defense budget legislation require name changes at those 10 Army bases. Trump has said he will veto the bill if it reaches his desk with that provision intact.
Neither Esper nor Milley has spoken publicly about two other controversies likely to be raised at the House hearing - intelligence reports that Russia may have offered bounty money to the Taliban in exchange for killing American and coalition troops in Afghanistan, and reported White House resistance to permitting the Army to promote Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman to the rank of colonel.
The split between the president and his Pentagon chief came amid heightened tensions with Tehran following a US drone strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force. Trump had twice warned that he would hit Iranian cultural sites if Tehran retaliates against the US.
The meeting in Riyadh, where Esper arrived late on Monday after an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, also took in defence issues and the current situation in the region.
Many experts say the effort is overdue, given military advances in China during the past two decades as America focused on counter-terrorism operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere.
Derek Chauvin, who was dismissed from the police department with three fellow officers the day after the fatal encounter, was arrested on third-degree murder and manslaughter charges for his role in Monday's death of 46-year-old George Floyd.
The 36-year-old husband, from the US, told Abu Dhabi Personal Status Court that his wife, 32, had tried to take her own life and also threatened to kill their children.
Sheikha Latifa said on Instagram, “We were blessed today with a baby girl, Sheikha Bint Faisal Al Qasimi.”
Police in the western province of Makkah said the attacker was a Saudi, but it did not give the nationality of the guard, who they said had sustained minor injuries.
Christian Bolok, who was in his mid-30s, was trying to grab a rooster when one of its gaffs — small steel blades attached to a rooster's legs — cut a gaping wound on his left leg and hit his femoral artery, provincial Governor Edwin Ongchuan said.