Mattis selects two-star general to conduct Pentagon briefings

After five months of silence from the podium in the Pentagon briefing room, Defense Secretary James Mattis h...

Posted: Nov 6, 2018 5:13 AM
Updated: Nov 6, 2018 5:13 AM

After five months of silence from the podium in the Pentagon briefing room, Defense Secretary James Mattis has selected a two-star Marine Corps general to act as a uniformed spokesman for the Defense Department. Maj. Gen. Burke Whitman, a reservist, is expected to begin briefing the Pentagon press corps on camera from now on, something that has not happened since May.

A general is now being selected to fill this newly created job for one basic reason, officials say. Both Mattis and the White House had recently been dissatisfied with Pentagon briefings and wanted a much higher military profile in the on-camera briefings. Several officials say Mattis and the White House wanted a military figure to act as spokesperson.

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Up until May, chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White had conducted the briefings and though she will remain in her role, she is not expected to brief on camera on a regular basis. She has told other officials her schedule of increased travel with the secretary no longer allows her time for briefings. CNN reported in August that White was under investigation by the Defense Department Office of Inspector General for allegedly retaliating against staff members after she used some of them to conduct her personal errands and business matters.

Previously White had briefed jointly on camera with Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the joint staff. But McKenzie generally talked only about military operations and did not answer questions on policy matters. He also did not have the title of uniformed spokesman.

The decision to appoint Whitman is controversial because the military is supposed to remain outside the political arena, and with a member of the military acting as spokesperson reporters will not be able to ask questions about political aspects of decision making.

"Political considerations have always influenced the policymaking process at the Pentagon. To suggest otherwise is to disregard the whole concept of civilian control of the military," says retired Rear Adm. John Kirby, a CNN analyst.

Kirby did serve while in uniform as chief spokesman for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel but was asked by incoming Secretary Ash Carter to leave because Carter wanted a civilian spokesman. Kirby tells CNN that Carter would have let him stay if he had retired.

The Pentagon made the case that Whitman could answer policy questions, often regarding issues determined by political appointees, such as the controversy over transgender persons serving in the military. "Absolutely he is apolitical, so we will maintain that line," said Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, who added that Whitman will talk policy issues but not politics.

Kirby suggests putting a military person on the podium may have a beneficial impact for Mattis, as they could deliver credible information in a nonpolitical manner. "But he's also going to need the secretary's full support to protect him from the politics. It's not insurmountable, but it requires an active effort," Kirby said.

Whitman will serve on active duty in the new job. He most recently has served as commanding general of the 4th Marine Division, which includes 17,000 Marines and sailors. He has commanded forces in Bosnia, Iraq and during two tours in Afghanistan. In the private sector he has also served in several corporate jobs.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 343505

Reported Deaths: 7543
CountyCasesDeaths
Hinds23932444
DeSoto23229283
Harrison20527329
Rankin15411291
Jackson15232252
Madison10959227
Lee10719179
Jones9047169
Forrest8723159
Lauderdale7884244
Lowndes7054151
Lamar702989
Lafayette6548124
Washington5595139
Pearl River5196152
Bolivar4954134
Oktibbeha494398
Panola4771112
Warren4728128
Marshall4701106
Pontotoc447773
Union433279
Monroe4330137
Neshoba4281181
Hancock428088
Lincoln4176116
Pike3667113
Leflore3627125
Tate353388
Alcorn350974
Sunflower347694
Scott341176
Adams340988
Yazoo339376
Copiah324968
Simpson322891
Itawamba314680
Coahoma314085
Tippah306568
Prentiss298863
Covington293484
Leake285475
Marion284181
Wayne277543
George272251
Grenada269488
Newton262364
Tishomingo239770
Winston236784
Jasper230648
Stone229637
Attala226373
Chickasaw219060
Holmes200174
Clay197654
Clarke186880
Tallahatchie183742
Calhoun181332
Smith179235
Yalobusha171540
Walthall145748
Lawrence142826
Greene140134
Amite137543
Noxubee135235
Perry133538
Montgomery133044
Carroll126431
Webster121232
Jefferson Davis116734
Tunica114227
Benton106725
Claiborne105331
Kemper102429
Humphreys100133
Franklin87923
Quitman84719
Choctaw82619
Wilkinson78032
Jefferson71328
Sharkey51618
Issaquena1736
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 587405

Reported Deaths: 11536
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson853851591
Mobile48932864
Madison37517533
Shelby27280257
Tuscaloosa27171465
Montgomery26172627
Baldwin25399329
Lee17224181
Calhoun15401334
Morgan15170291
Etowah14954370
Marshall13116235
Houston12077293
Elmore10915219
St. Clair10763252
Limestone10725158
Cullman10546205
Lauderdale10255254
DeKalb9508192
Talladega8949188
Walker7793288
Autauga7563114
Jackson7400117
Blount7362139
Colbert6703142
Coffee6365132
Dale5650117
Russell480243
Chilton4771117
Covington4749125
Franklin458181
Tallapoosa4519156
Escambia441383
Chambers3949125
Dallas3743163
Clarke371263
Marion3463107
Pike332579
Lawrence3263100
Winston298773
Bibb290465
Geneva283983
Marengo262467
Barbour250961
Pickens245562
Butler240872
Hale235578
Fayette227065
Henry213945
Monroe202141
Randolph201144
Cherokee199248
Washington185239
Macon170552
Crenshaw168358
Clay166259
Cleburne161345
Lamar151038
Lowndes145455
Wilcox132331
Bullock126542
Conecuh121332
Coosa118329
Perry110528
Sumter110333
Greene99137
Choctaw64425
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