Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Steve Helber/AP

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Defense Secretary Reminds Employees to Remain Apolitical and Ethical

The statement was released right after Esper attended President Trump’s remarks following the president’s acquittal on impeachment charges.

At a time of intense partisan rancor nationwide, the Defense Department on Thursday implored its employees to stay above the fray. 

Defense Secretary Mark Esper sent a memo to military and civilian employees reminding them to remain apolitical and follow the department’s ethics guidance. Esper’s message comes as the 2020 presidential campaign is heating up and amid growing concern that military personnel are becoming too politically active. Observers noted that the statement came out shortly after Esper attended the president’s remarks on Thursday marking Trump’s acquittal in the Senate of impeachment charges brought by the House, which stemmed from an investigation the president has repeatedly called a partisan “witch hunt.” 

“As citizens, we exercise our right to vote and participate in government. As public servants who have taken an oath to defend these principles, we uphold [the department’s] longstanding tradition of remaining apolitical as we carry out our official responsibilities,” wrote Esper. “Maintaining the hard-earned trust and confidence of the American people requires us to avoid any action that could imply endorsement of a political party, political candidate or campaign by any element of the department.”

Esper said he was pleased with the Pentagon leadership’s involvement in annual ethics training last year and expects senior leaders to continue ethics training for their employees as well as incorporate ethics into their decision-making. He called on employees to conduct themselves in an apolitical and ethical manner to “defend the Constitution and our Nation's democratic principles.”