Yesterday, the House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, held a hearing on sexual assault in the military. During the hearing, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) explained that “women serving in the military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than be killed by enemy fire in Iraq.”
As part of their investigation, the subcommittee invited and then subpoenaed Dr. Kaye Whitley, the director of the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, to testify. But Deputy Defense Undersecretary Michael Dominguez ordered her not to appear before the committee, claiming that the responsibility “rests with me.”
Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) responded by asking, “What is it you’re trying to hide.” Waxman then took him to task, even threatening to hold him in contempt:
WAXMAN: We subpoenaed her. You’ve denied her the opportunity to come and testify and put in a situation where we have to contemplate holding her in contempt. I don’t even know if we could hold you in contempt, because you haven’t been issued a subpoena. […]
I don’t know if we need to subpoena the Secretary and then hold him in contempt; Mr. Chu, and hold him in contempt; you, and hold you in contempt. Those are better options to me than to hold her in contempt, when she’s put in this untenable position, when her — in the line of command — instructs her not to comply with a subpoena of the United States Congress.
Subcommittee Chairman Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) called Dominguez’s decision a “false notion of bravado” before kicking Dominguez out of the hearing. “We don’t want to hear from you right now. I can tell you, we’re more than a little bit upset with you…You’re dismissed,” he said.
According to the Defense Department website, Whitley’s office is the “the single point of accountability for the Department of Defense sexual assault policy.” Subcommittee Chairman Tierney explained, “Whitley has testified in Congress before, in fact, before this very subcommittee two years ago, also on sexual assault in the military.”
Dominguez said no claim of executive privileged was invoked, the department simply chose to ignore the subpoena.
WAXMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The department agency SexualAssault Prevention and Response Office, known as SAPRO, that’s the agency that’s in charge of dealing with these sexualassault problems. And we asked the Department of Defense to provide Dr. Whitley, who’s the person in charge of this department, to come and testify.
And we were told that she wouldn’t be permitted to come and testify, so we subpoenaed her. And notwithstanding that, she’s still not here.
And, Mr. Dominguez, you said you’ve instructed her not to come? What is your reason for doing that? DOMINGUEZ: Sir, in consultation with the department’s leadership, I wanted to…
WAXMAN: Tell us who in the leadership. Who did you consult with in the leadership of the Department of Defense?
DOMINGUEZ: Sir, I consulted with the assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs and general counsel of the Department of Defense. And…
WAXMAN: And they told you not to let her — she’s under your command, is that…
DOMINGUEZ: Yes, sir. She is my subordinate. And the point we are making here, first, is that she is available to the Congress and the members and has been up here repeatedly on her own, with her staff, unfettered, unmuzzled by us to provide whatever information she has and answer any persons questions.
In this hearing format, we wanted to ensure and make a point that Dr. Chu, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and I are the senior policy officials accountable to Secretary Gates and to the Congress for the department’s sexualassault prevention policies and programs.
If you find the department’s response and prevention efforts falls short of your expectations, responsibility for that shortfall rests with me. And for that reason, sir, Dr. Whitley was directed not to appear today.
WAXMAN: That’s a ridiculous answer. What is it you’re trying to hide? She’s the one in…
DOMINGUEZ: We have nothing…
WAXMAN: Let me speak. She’s the one in charge of dealing with this problem. We wanted to hear from her. And despite a subpoena from a committee of Congress, you’ve been instructed by the secretary, undersecretary or deputy secretary in charge of legislative affairs not to allow her to come?
And you want to come because you’re in charge of this area and you can speak instead, well, do we have to subpoena the secretary to get people in the department to come before us?
We subpoenaed her. You’ve denied her the opportunity to come and testify and put in a situation where we have to contemplate holding her in contempt. I don’t even know if we could hold you in contempt, because you haven’t been issued a subpoena.
Mr. Chairman, the Department of Defense has a history of covering up sexual offense problems. We all remember Tailhook and the scandal and how the military tried to cover that up. And I don’t know what you’re trying to cover up here, but we’re not going to allow it. We’re going to talk further as to what recourse we have.
I don’t know if we need to subpoena the secretary and then hold him in contempt, Mr. Chu, would hold him in contempt, you, and hold you in contempt. Those are better options to me than to hold her in contempt, when she’s put in this untenable position, when her — in the line of command — instructs her not to comply with a subpoena of the United States Congress.
I don’t know who you think elected you to defy the Congress of the United States. We’re an independent branch of government.
Mr. Chairman, I’m going to talk to you and to Mr. Shays and Mr. Davis about what we do next, but this is an unacceptable, absolutely unacceptable position for the department to take. And we are not going to let it stand.
TIERNEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SHAYS: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and the full chairman of the committee.
Mr. Waxman has the authority solely to issue a subpoena without the approval of any member here and he has every right to issue it at any time.
But in this case, you have the chairman of the full committee, the ranking member of the full committee, the chairman of the subcommittee, and the ranking member of the subcommittee, which is me, all in support. And I will cooperate any way whatsoever to get Ms. Whitley here.
And I would ask Mr. Dominguez to reconsider his very foolish decision and encourage her to come. And if not, we will get her here some other way.
DOMINGUEZ: Sir, I do want to say that…
TIERNEY: No, we don’t want to hear from you right now, Mr. Dominguez. Let me tell you, we’re more than a little bit upset with you. And whatever this false notion of bravado or whatever, of thinking you’re covering up for something or for Dr. Whitley — is she in the room today?
DOMINGUEZ: No, sir.
TIERNEY: She’s not even in the building?
DOMINGUEZ: She’s not, sir.
WAXMAN: Mr. Chairman — who’s here to advise you on the details of that office and what they’ve done?
DOMINGUEZ: I know the details of that office and what they’ve done, sir. TIERNEY: Well, let me tell you something, Mr. Dominguez: We decide who we want to have for witnesses at this hearing. We decide who are the people that are going to give us factual testimony and the ones that we want to hear from when we’re investigating or having a hearing.
So for now, Mr. Dominguez, you’re dismissed.
DOMINGUEZ: Thank you, sir.