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Sean Spicer joins lawsuit against DOD, Navy, Naval Academy over Board of Visitors

Then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer has joined a lawsuit against the Department of Defense, Navy, Army, Air Force and service academies over the inability for advisory boards to meet.

Spicer served on the Naval Academy Board of Visitors until last Wednesday when President Joe Biden asked for the resignation of 18 Trump-appointed members of the service academy boards. If they did not resign, their positions would be terminated.

In a letter, dated Sunday, Spicer responded that he would not resign from his position on the academy’s advisory board. While Spicer did resign when asked from the President’s Commission of White House Fellows, the board appointment was different, according to the letter.

“The demand for the resignation to a military service academy, in this case the United States Naval Academy, is unprecedented and, I believe, bad policy because it is divisive, would destroy the politically balanced structure of the Boards of Visitors as created by Congress and deprive the academies of the diversity of experience, knowledge and perspectives the academies traditionally have had and need in order for the academies to fulfill their missions competently and in a manner reflective of all of the American people,” Spicer wrote.

Spicer was surprised by the request to resign, he said in an interview with The Capital. He was under the impression that the Board of Visitors, which has not met since last year, would soon be able to meet. The service academy boards of visitors are currently part of a zero-based review being conducted by the Department of Defense.

Spicer was appointed by former President Donald Trump in July 2019 and was sworn-in for his three-year term in December 2019.

In defending the president’s requests for the Trump appointees to be removed from the advisory board, Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that it’s questionable if members, like Spicer or Kellyanne Conway, who served on the Air Force Board of Visitors, were qualified.

Spicer said that it was insulting for her to question his 22 years in the Navy, as well as the experience of others on the board. Spicer is a commander in the Naval reserves and graduated from the War College.

It was not just his experience she questioned, he said, pointing to retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, retired Gen. Jack Keane and retired Lt. Gen. Guy Swan, who served on the advisory board at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

“I think it’s insulting to their service for someone like Jen Psaki to suggest that they aren’t qualified to serve,” Spicer said. “It’s disrespectful days from 9/11, for her to make that suggestion from the White House podium.”

The most recent complaint in the lawsuit that Spicer joined does not reference his resignation or the president terminating the positions. The president is not listed as a defendant.

The lawsuit, spearheaded by Heidi Stirrup, a former member of the Air Force Academy Board of Visitors, focuses instead on the boards being unable to meet while under review.

The lawsuit questions the legitimacy of the Department of Defense preventing the boards from meeting because the boards were created by Congress and not the DOD.

Stirrup and the other plaintiffs raised concerns about the boards not being able to meet, which prevents them from receiving information and advising on topics like critical race theory and COVID-19 vaccination.

Spicer, too, has questions about the Naval Academy that he feels the board needs to be able to ask. He would like to learn more about the physics test cheating incident from the fall semester, he said.

There are also infrastructure funding concerns, including the sea wall at the academy, that need to be addressed, he said.

“And so this administration has put the jeopardy of the future of the Naval Academy at stake,” Spicer said.

He was not initially planning to join the lawsuit because he believed the board would be able to meet shortly, he said.

However, after Biden’s actions, he said he joined so that this cannot happen with future administrations.

Outside of the lawsuit, Spicer said members of Congress should look to codify language that prevents administrations from removing presidential appointees from previous administrations. This could possibly be added to the National Defense Authorization Act, he said.

“Congress set these boards up to … provide oversight of the academies,” Spicer said. “And this administration has shut down that oversight. Why? Why and no one is asked that question yet. Why? What is this administration trying to hide?”


(c) 2021 The Capital

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