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‘Another Lawsuit in the Making’: Pentagon Leaders Delayed Promoting Female Generals Over Fear Trump Would Replace Them with White Men


The top two senior leaders at the Pentagon last year delayed recommending two female generals be promoted to four-star status due to concerns that then-President Donald Trump would step in and derail the nominations before they reached the Senate for approval, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

According to the Times, former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley agreed to withhold promotions for Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost of the Air Force and Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson of the Army because they “feared that any candidates other than white men for jobs mostly held by white men might run into turmoil once their nominations got to the White House.”

The Pentagon officials instead banked on Joe Biden winning the presidential election in Nov. 2020, assuming that a Biden administration would follow through on the Pentagon’s recommendations.

“They were chosen because they were the best officers for the jobs, and I didn’t want their promotions derailed because someone in the Trump White House saw that I recommended them or thought D.O.D. [Department of Defense] was playing politics,” Esper, who was “terminated” less than one week after Trump lost the 2020 election, said in an interview with the Times. “This was not the case. They were the best qualified. We were doing the right thing.”

The strategy appears to have worked, as the Times additionally reported that newly installed Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is reportedly preparing to send the nominations of Van Ovost and Richardson to President Biden for formal submission to the Senate.

“Soooo…this looks like yet another lawsuit in the making,” CNN legal analyst and former FBI special agent Asha Rangappa reacted to the news.

Though not commenting on the legality of the issue, former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said the report exposed “absolutely outrageous” details.

Former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal called the delay “despicable.”

Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, who replaced Esper, disputed the Times’ reporting, saying the delay “was about timing considerations, not that they were women.”

Retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a career U.S. Army officer who served on the National Security Council (NSC) and was a key witness in Trump’s first impeachment trial, said the report was not particularly surprising given his experience with the previous administration.

“Given my experience this is unsurprising. DOD & the army held up my promotion & gave me little choice but to retire. They’ve delayed [Yevgeny Vindman’s] promotion for 5 months. Senior mil officials have been cowed into shedding core values,” he wrote. “There’s little doubt that these deserving female officers would never have seen promotion if the former president had been re-elected.”

[image via Andrew Harrer-Pool/ Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.