Warren Questions Defense Secretary Nominee Mark Esper's Refusal to Fully Recuse Himself from Matters Involving His Former Employer, Raytheon
"The American people deserve to know that you are making decisions in our country's security interests, not in your own financial interests. You can't make those commitments to this committee, that means you should not be confirmed as Secretary of Defense."
Washington, DC - At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the nomination of Mark Esper to serve as Secretary of Defense, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) questioned Dr. Esper regarding his refusal to commit to recusing himself from any matters involving his former employer, defense contractor Raytheon, for the duration of his government service. She posed similar questions to Dr. Esper previously, including during a private meeting, as well as in a letter on July 11, 2019.
In May, Senator Warren introduced the Department of Defense Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act, a comprehensive bill which, among other ambitious measures, would block the revolving door between the Pentagon and giant defense contractors like Raytheon by prohibiting big defense contractors from hiring former senior DoD officials for four years after they leave government. The legislation is consistent with her sweeping Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, the most ambitious anti-corruption legislation since Watergate.
A full transcript of the Senator's exchange with Dr. Esper is available below.
Transcript: Warren Questions Defense Secretary Nominee Mark
Esper's Refusal to Fully Recuse Himself from Matters Involving His Former
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Senate Armed Services Committee
SENATOR WARREN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Secretary Esper, prior to becoming Army Secretary, you were the top lobbyist for Raytheon, which of course is the nation's third largest defense contractor.
Now, under current ethics rules, you're prohibited from participating in any decisions involving Raytheon for two years after your appointment as Army Secretary. But because you have already been in government for 20 months, that recusal period is set to expire in November, which means you will soon be able to participate personally and substantially in matters involving your former employer. That's a conflict of interest given that Raytheon does billions of dollars worth of business every year with the Defense Department.
So Secretary Esper, your predecessor, Acting Secretary Shanahan, committed to extend his recusal from all matters involving his former employer, Boeing, for the duration of his government service.
If you're confirmed, will you do the same and commit to extending your recusal from any and all matters involving Raytheon for your -- the duration of your tenure as Secretary of Defense?
ESPER: Senator, we had this discussion in your office--
WARREN: Yes, we did.
ESPER: We had this discussion a couple years ago. On the advice of my ethics folks at the Pentagon, the career professionals, no, the recommendation is not to. The belief is that the screening process I have in place, all the rules and regulations and law that --
WARREN: So let's just cut to it. You're not going to do what Acting Secretary Shanahan agreed to do? And that is to agree not to be involved in decisions involving your former employer, where you were head lobbyist, for the duration of your time as Secretary of Defense.
ESPER: Senator, I can't explain why he made that commitment. We obviously come to -- he was --
WARREN: But you are not willing to make the same commitment, is that right?
ESPER: He was fulfilling a different role than I am, and he obviously --
WARREN: You are unwilling to make that same commitment, is that right, Dr. Esper?
ESPER: He has a different professional background --
WARREN: I'll take that as a yes, you're unwilling to make that commitment. That is not the only ethics problem with your nomination.
Part of the deal you got from Raytheon when you left as their top lobbyist was at least a million dollars in deferred compensation after 2022.
Now the law prohibits you from participating in matters that would affect Raytheon's ability or willingness to hand you this massive payout. But there's a catch. In a recent memo, you detailed an exception to your ethics obligations by writing that you can get a waiver to participate in matters that directly and predictably affect Raytheon's financial interests if it's "so important that it cannot be referred to another official."
This smacks of corruption, plain and simple.
So here's my question: Will you commit that during your time as Defense Secretary that you will not seek any waiver that will allow you to participate in matters that affect Raytheon's financial interests?
ESPER: Senator, let me correct the record with regard to what you said. At any time in the past twenty-some months, to include the past three weeks, did I request or seek or receive or be granted any waiver.
WARREN: I appreciate, Dr. Esper, that you have not in the past asked for one. But you're the one who has detailed an exception to your ethics obligation by saying that you could seek a waiver in the future.
And so I'm asking, if you're confirmed, will you agree not to seek such a waiver? I think it's a fair question. It's a yes or no. I have other ethics issues I'd like to cover.
ESPER: I think this is a good debate.
WARREN: No, I'm not trying to have a debate. I want to know if you will agree not to seek such a waiver.
ESPER: So let me just read to you -- this is a letter from the Director....
WARREN: Is that a yes or a no? I'll take it then as a no, you will not agree not to seek such a waiver.
ESPER: Mr. Chairman, I'd like to submit this for the record.
WARREN: I have third question to ask about ethics. I think I'm entitled to ask these questions.
ESPER: I just want to answer the question.
WARREN: His question is a yes or no. Will he agree?
CHAIRMAN INHOFE: I'm going to interrupt for a moment here. I think that Dr. Esper has the opportunity, should have the opportunity to answer the questions that you're asking. You've asked several questions, he's trying to answer a question. We'd like to recognize him to answer that question.
WARREN: I presume, Mr. Chairman, I'll get extra time then?
INHOFE: Yeah, you can have extra time.
ESPER: Yes, sir. I'd just like to submit this for the record. It's a statement from the director of the standards of conduct officer. I won't read the whole thing, in the interest of time. But it says: "At no time while serving as Secretary of the Army or the Acting Secretary of Defense did you -- he's writing to me -- request, seek or receive a waiver or authorization related to your ethics agreement and ethics obligations."
INHOFE: Ok, Senator Warren.
WARREN: So I stipulated earlier, that I understand you have not asked in the past. So I'll ask my question again. Will you agree not to ask for a waiver during the time you serve as Secretary of Defense?
ESPER: Uh, no Senator, I won't. Because I'm going to continue to abide by the rules and regulations, and I'm going to --
WARREN: Thank you. I have a third question.
ESPER: And I'm going to continue to consult closely with my ethics personnel to ensure that we stay in the ethical midfield.
WARREN: I recently introduced legislation to block the revolving door between the Pentagon and giant defense contractors like Raytheon by prohibiting big defense contractors from hiring former senior DoD officials for four years after they leave government. If it were the law, you couldn't go back to work at Raytheon or any other defense contractor immediately. In other words, it would help close the revolving door.
If confirmed, will you commit not to work for get paid by any defense contractor for at least four years after your government service?
ESPER: No, Senator. I will not.
WARREN: Alright. So let me get this straight:
You're still due to get at least a million dollar payout from when you lobbied for Raytheon.
You won't commit to recuse yourself from Raytheon's decision.
You insist on being free to seek a waiver that would let you make decisions affecting Raytheon's bottom line and your remaining financial interests.
And you won't rule out taking a trip right back through the revolving door on your way out of government service, or even just delaying that trip for four years after you leave government.
Secretary Esper, the American people deserve to know that you're making decisions in our country's best security interests, not in your own financial interests. You can't make those commitments to this committee, that means you should not be confirmed as Secretary of Defense.
ESPER: Senator, if I may answer your question. At the age of 18, I went to West Point and I swore an oath to defend this Constitution. And I embraced the motto called "duty and honor and country." And I've lived my life in accordance with those values ever since then. I went to war for this country. I served overseas for this country. I've stepped down from jobs that pay me well more than I what I was working anywhere else. And each time it was to serve the public good, and to serve the young men and women of our Armed Services.
So no, I disagree. I think the presumption is, for some reason, anybody comes from the business, the corporate world is corrupt.
WARREN: So I'm asking the question -- no.
INHOFE: Okay, next up. That's it.
WARREN: This is not right, Mr. Chairman. He does not -- I didn't ask a question at the end.
INHOFE: Senator Sullivan is recognized. You've gone 2 minutes over --
WARREN: No, I haven't gone over. He has gone over. And he is not willing to make a commitment that he will not engage in conflicts of interest for the company for which he was a lobbyist. This is outrageous.
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