Gillibrand Denies That Mattis’ Position On Sex Assault Reform Has Anything To Do With Blocking Waiver

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Jonah Bennett Contributor

Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is denying that retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis’s past opposition to sexual assault reform in the military has anything to do with her decision to block a waiver that would allow Mattis to serve as secretary of defense.

In an op-ed Monday at the Independent Journal Review, Alex Plitsas, a former Pentagon counterterrorism official, argued that Gillibrand likely holds a vendetta against Mattis because he pushed back against attempts to change sexual assault law and believes that authority in sexual assault matters must rest with the commanding officer.

But Marc Brumer, Gillibrand’s communications director, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that her opposition to Mattis’ wavier, which he needs in order to serve as secretary of defense, is only on “the grounds that she thinks civilian control of the military is fundamental.”

Gillibrand has already pushed the justification of civilian control as the reason for blocking the waiver repeatedly in the press, particularly in an early December piece for The New York Times.

Plitsas, however, is unconvinced, and thinks instead that Gillibrand’s obsession with sexual assault reform has led her to hold a grudge against Mattis.

Gillibrand has pushed for years to take away the authority of military commanders to handle sexual assault cases and assign them to an outside prosecutor, so as to avoid retaliation for reporting assault.

Mattis made no secret in 2013 at a Senate Committee on Armed Services hearing that he supported the current Uniform Code of Military Justice as is, which he noted had been upheld by multiple Supreme Court decisions. He was not directly responding to Gillibrand, but rather opposing Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier’s legislation to strip military commanders of the authority to overturn certain decisions from judges or juries.

Sexual assault in the military has functioned as a very emotional point of focus for Gillibrand, and when her bill fell apart, she remarked that she was “deeply upset.”

“Today is a setback in our fight on survivors’ behalf, but it is no more than that,” Gillibrand said. “I refuse to back down.”

Since Mattis retired from the military in 2013, he is currently ineligible to serve as secretary of defense, as the position requires seven years of separation from the service, in order to preserve the tradition of civilian control of the military.

Only a congressional waiver can remove that obstacle, and while Republicans seem eager to push an exception via legislation, some Democrats, particularly Gillibrand, are convinced granting an exception is a bad idea.

After a recent closed-door meeting with Mattis, Gillibrand stated she will still oppose the waiver.

“And when we created the secretary of defense and when we created the Department of Defense, Congress very intentionally said the secretary of defense will also be a civilian to be consistent with our constitutional requirements of civilian control of the military,” Gillibrand said. “We believe that should not be changed.”

“I still believe that civilian control of the military is fundamental to our democracy,” she added.

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