It looks like we have yet another showdown between the Trump administration and congressional Democrats over questions of border security. The Pentagon’s Inspector General announced this week that he is opening an investigation to determine whether or not the White House’s use of military troops on the southern border is legal. The move comes in response to a letter sent by a few dozen House members accusing the Trump administration of “misuse and politicization” of the troops in this fashion. (NY Post)
The Pentagon’s independent investigations office announced Tuesday that it will evaluate the legality of the Trump administration’s use of the military at the U.S. border with Mexico.
Glenn Fine, the acting inspector general (IG) of the Defense Department who had served as the Justice Department IG for 11 years, said his probe will assess several aspects of the military’s border mission, which some in Congress call a misuse of the military.
Under federal law, the military may not be used for domestic law enforcement purposes. The Trump administration’s view is that the troops are in a national security role at the southern border.
There’s clearly nothing wrong with conducting this sort of review, no matter whether it was an internal decision or one spurred by external requests. In fact, it would be criminally negligent of the Pentagon to not regularly review the mission of the troops to ensure that the law is being followed.
With that said, it really doesn’t appear that Trump has much to worry about. It’s been made clear from the beginning that the troops can’t be used for domestic law enforcement purposes, otherwise, the President would be heading for posse comitatus trouble. (Barring a declaration of martial law, anyway.) But that’s never been the declared mission of the troops currently working along the border anyway.
The only assignments we’ve heard about are strictly separate from law enforcement duties. The troops have been working on construction projects, which is allowed under federal law within 25 miles of the border. They have also been monitoring activity along the border, but only so they can inform CBP when they see suspicious activity. They’re not making arrests themselves.
Other troops have taken on administrative and maintenance tasks for the CBP, freeing up their agents to perform actual border security tasks. This sort of division of labor provides useful tasks for the soldiers to tackle while not crossing over the line into direct law enforcement activity. Assuming the IG doesn’t find anything else going on where they’ve been coloring outside the lines, the White House should pass this review without much trouble.
Assuming that’s the case, the onus should be placed back on the Democrats who complained about the troop deployments. What’s their real objective in issuing this complaint? Call me skeptical by nature, but I somehow doubt that they’re worried about the welfare and appropriate duties of our troops. More likely, they just don’t want anything happening to make life easier for CBP in their efforts to keep the border secure. And that’s one heck of a platform to run on next year, isn’t it?