The joint military service chiefs were not briefed on the recommendations by Defense Secretary James Mattis against the transgender military ban or the Trump memo seeking to implement them before the White House went public with them last Friday, according to two sources familiar with the process.
One source said the top uniformed officials at the Pentagon had to download the documents online just like the rest of the public late on March 23 to obtain them for the first time.
Maj. Carla Gleason, a Pentagon spokesperson, wouldn’t deny the joint chiefs weren’t briefed on the recommendation before it went public, but said their representatives were on the panel of experts that advised Mattis on transgender service before he made his recommendation.
“Recommendations and conversations between the secretary and the president are private, however, each service was represented on the panel of experts,” Gleason said.
Gleason said the group of experts on which Mattis relied before making his recommendation on February 22 to the White House was “a panel of service and joint staff senior leaders.”
A defense official said the service chiefs may not have had the documents in hand before they went public Friday, but that wasn’t unusual because it was a part of a process in which Mattis was tasked with producing a recommendation and there was no actual policy before the White House issued its memo March 23.
There’s a history of Trump not consulting the joint chiefs on his plan to ban transgender people “in any capacity” from the armed forces, which he announced via Twitter in July. A Buzzfeed report last month on an email exchange immediately after Trump tweeted out his announcement revealed Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford called the move “unexpected” and intended to tell Congress he was “not consulted.”
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment late Friday on why the administration elected not to brief the service chiefs before making the transgender policy public.
Even after the White House made the transgender policy public last week, the Pentagon has insisted it will continue to assess and retain transgender troops in accordance with multiple court orders against Trump’s earlier policy that found banning transgender service members is unconstitutional.