Pentagon to convene panel on transgender personnel ban

W.J. Hennigan
Chicago Tribune

Washington — Defense Secretary James N. Mattis says the Pentagon won’t change its policy of allowing transgender people to serve in the U.S. military until he receives recommendations from a panel that is supposed to report back in February on the impact of a ban.

The panel will be drawn from the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, but its members have yet to be named. They will examine how the Pentagon can implement President Donald Trump’s directive banning transgender individuals from entering the armed forces.

Mattis’ statement Tuesday night came in response to Trump’s memo last Friday that directed Mattis, in consultation with secretary of Homeland Security, to submit a plan to him by Feb. 21. Trump has yet to appoint a new Homeland Security chief to replace John Kelly, who became White House chief of staff.

“As directed, we will develop a study and implementation plan, which will contain the steps that will promote military readiness, lethality, and unit cohesion, with due regard for budgetary constraints and consistent with applicable law,” Mattis said.

He said the panel will be made up of people with “mature experience, most notably in combat and deployed operations, and seasoned judgment to this task.”

In the interim, currently serving transgender troops will remain in the armed forces under existing policy, he said.

That policy, which was begun by President Barack Obama last year after a lengthy Pentagon review, placed protection of gender rights in the military on par with race, religion, color, sex and sexual orientation. The move was part of a broader initiative to bring the military in line with shifts with social attitudes.

For the first time, transgender service members could serve openly, and several thousand people in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard did so. The services had to provide medical and training plans, and arrange full implementation by July 1, 2017.

Mattis had pushed that deadline back six months before Trump unexpectedly announced on Twitter on July 26 that he planned to reverse Obama’s policy entirely, saying the military would neither accept nor allow transgender people to serve.

Kremlin: Trump’s lawyer reached out about deal

The Kremlin on Wednesday confirmed that President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer reached out to them during the 2016 presidential campaign, seeking help for a business project in Russia.

In a statement to the House Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen said Monday the president’s company pursued a project in Moscow during the Republican primary. He said the plan was abandoned for various reasons.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters in Moscow on Wednesday that they received Cohen’s email, which was sent to the press office’s general email address. Peskov said it was one of many emails the Kremlin press office gets and that the Kremlin did not reply to it.

Cohen said he worked on the real estate proposal with Felix Sater, a Russia-born associate who he said claimed to have deep connections in Moscow.