Pentagon nominee’s hearing canceled amid ‘serious questions’ from senators

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

A majority of Armed Services Democrats opposed Tata. The panel’s top Democrat, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, praised the decision to cancel Thursday’s hearing.

“We’re a bipartisan committee. It’s fair to say members on both sides of the aisle have raised serious questions about this nominee,” Reed said in a statement. “We had a closed door session on Tuesday and today’s public hearing has now been canceled.”

“Chairman Inhofe did the right thing here, and it’s clear this nomination isn’t going anywhere without a full, fair, open hearing,” Reed added.

Tata, a retired Army brigadier general and Fox News regular, was expected to have a rough hearing. Just days after he was formally nominated in June, CNN reported that in 2018, Tata labeled Obama “a terrorist leader” and called Islam “the most oppressive violent religion I know of” in now-deleted tweets.

Tata also derided House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) on Twitter. And he shared an article that promoted a conspiracy theory that Obama was a “Manchurian candidate,” among other tweets that Democrats have taken issue with.

The controversy couldn’t come at a worse time for the Pentagon. If confirmed, Tata would take over the Pentagon’s policy shop as the military grapples with racial issues in the wake of nationwide protests.

As the Trump administration pushed to confirm Tata, military leaders are taking steps to increase diversity and foster greater respect in the ranks. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has also been walking a fine line between President Donald Trump and his own ranks, including issuing a policy that effectively bans public displays of the Confederate flag.

“Based on his tweets and what’s been reported about him, he appears to be on the other side of that metric,” said one person with knowledge of discussions about getting Tata through the confirmation process. “His nomination [comes] at a time when the entire department is moving in a different direction.”

Tata has tried to walk back his commentary amid the controversy. In a letter to Inhofe and Reed, Tata expressed regret for the tweets and called his comments “completely out of character” and an “aberration” in his lengthy career.

Democrats aren’t convinced. Ten Senate Democrats sent Tata a letter this week calling on him to withdraw from the confirmation process.

“Nominees should see the value diversity, inclusion, and unity bring to our institutions,” they wrote. “Unfortunately, your history of public remarks does not meet this standard.”

One Republican, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, has warned he may oppose Tata, though not for the reasons Democrats want to nix his nomination. Cramer, a Trump ally, is pushing for the Pentagon to support adding the names of the 74 sailors who died in a 1969 collision aboard the destroyer USS Frank E. Evans to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and has threatened to oppose Tata as leverage.

The committee has 27 members — 14 Republicans and 13 Democrats. If all Democrats oppose Tata, only one GOP senator would need to break ranks to jam up his confirmation.

Tata has been working at the Pentagon as a senior adviser to Esper. Chief Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman told reporters Thursday that Tata will remain in that role.

The Trump administration, however, has weighed installing him in a different senior Pentagon role on an acting basis to head off a confirmation fight in the Senate.

The Senate will be short on time to confirm Tata if Armed Services decides to consider him after the August recess. The chamber is scheduled to be in session for just 22 days in September and October ahead of the election. A significant portion of that time will likely be devoted to passing funding legislation to avoid a government shutdown and negotiating compromise defense policy legislation.

Tata’s background as a career military officer and defense of Trump on Fox — including backing up Trump’s actions at the border and the firing of Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer last fall over the handling of former Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher’s war crimes case — may also be cause for senators to question whether he’s qualified for one of the Pentagon’s top civilian jobs.

“He does not fit the pattern of previous USDP nominations in either Republican or Democratic administrations — individuals whose entire careers are in that field, people who are known and respected,” said the person with knowledge of Tata’s confirmation process.

Separately, Tata retired from the Army in 2009 after an inspector general probe found he had extramarital affairs with “at least two” women earlier in his career, according to a report from the North Carolina-based News & Observer, stemming from an adultery complaint that involved three affairs and a son born out of wedlock.

If confirmed, Tata would have replaced John Rood, who was forced out as Pentagon policy chief in February amid allegations he was insufficiently loyal to Trump.

Lara Seligman contributed to this report.

Source