Pentagon says White House helped draft transgender military ban, contradicting White House’s claim

Defense Department spokesperson says it "was a coordinated effort with the White House as well as the Department of Justice."

Pentagon Spokewoman Dana White: CREDIT: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Pentagon Spokewoman Dana White: CREDIT: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

In a statement Thursday, the Department of Defense admitted that the White House did play a role in drafting President Trump’s newest ban on transgender people serving in the military. This directly contradicts White House statements that it was not involved and further reinforces reporting that Vice President Pence intervened, overruling recommendations from Defense Secretary James Mattis.

The Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson shared the statement on Twitter Thursday afternoon. According to department spokesperson Dana White, both the Department of Justice and White House were involved in crafting the policy.

It would make sense that the Department of Justice was involved, as it is currently litigating the many lawsuits challenging the ban. The new policy only became public because it was included in one of the government’s court filings Friday night.


But as Johnson notes, this directly contradicts what the White House has said about its involvement. A Pence official told Johnson it was “patently false” that the vice president had imposed his own report, insisting that he was not involved in a major way.

Likewise, when Johnson specifically asked the White House if Trump, Pence, or any other White House officials were involved, White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah responded, “The Department of Defense’s panel of experts was comprised of senior uniformed and civilian leaders who considered the issue based on data and their professional military judgment, without regard to any external factors.”

This language seemingly rejecting any White House involvement is suspiciously taken almost verbatim from the memo Mattis sent to Trump in February:

That memo was also only made public Friday night. At the time it was sent, it was widely reported that Mattis would recommend continuing to allow transgender people to serve. But that memo — the apparent source of that White House statement — recommended a ban with only a narrow exception for those who are already serving openly.

As ThinkProgress and Slate reported this weekend, multiple sources contend that Pence formed his own “working group” separate from the military panel that Mattis set up that included anti-LGBTQ activists like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation. This working group then reportedly overruled the recommendations made by Mattis’ military panel. Tellingly, the memo and the report explaining the recommendation contain the same anti-trans junk science that Perkins and Anderson regularly promote. So it looks like the very language the White House used to dismiss Johnson’s question about White House involvement came from a document the White House itself wrote.


White’s quote that the White House was part of “a coordinated effort” on the ban is also notable because there is not a single mention of any White House consultation in either the memo or the report. Indeed, it wouldn’t even make sense that the White House would consult on a report that was supposed to result in a recommendation for the White House. That is, of course, unless the White House — through Pence — dictated what it wanted the report to say.

This Defense Department statement is a telling admission that the White House was involved in doubling down on the ban.