Record of radicalism haunts Trump pick for Pentagon post

What did the White House know about Anthony Tata's record before Trump tapped him for a powerful Pentagon post?
Image: The Pentagon building on Sept. 24, 2017
The Pentagon is the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense.Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call via AP Images file
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By Steve Benen

In February, as part of a post-impeachment loyalty purge, Donald Trump ousted John Rood as the Pentagon's policy chief. About a month later, the White House had narrowed its search for his replacement to a retired Army colonel who frequently appeared on Fox News and a retired Army brigadier general who also frequently appeared on Fox News.

The president ultimately settled on the latter, tapping Anthony Tata for the job.

Late last week, CNN highlighted elements of the retired general's record, which suggested he was an unwise choice.

In several tweets from 2018, Tata said that Islam was the "most oppressive violent religion I know of" and claimed Obama was a "terrorist leader" who did more to harm the US "and help Islamic countries than any president in history." ... Tata, in one radio appearance, speculated the Iran deal was born out of Obama's "Islamic roots" in an attempt "to help Iranians and the greater Islamic state crush Israel."

Two years ago, promoting an op-ed in a conservative newspaper, Tata also published a tweet that read, "Never a doubt. Among dozens of clues, Obama supported Russian meddling in 2016 election & influenced Israeli elections to try to oust Netanyahu & help Hamas & Muslim brotherhood U.S. really did have Manchurian Candidate in White House - Washington Times."

Not surprisingly, given crackpot ideas like these, more than a few Senate Democrats have said there's simply no way they can support his nomination. All of which leads to two rather important questions.

First, are Senate Republicans seriously prepared to confirm this guy to a powerful position at the Department of Defense? Politico's report on this yesterday added, "No Senate Republicans have come out against Tata yet."

Second, exactly how much of Tata's record did the White House recognize before the president sent this nomination to Capitol Hill for consideration? By all appearances, either Team Trump was aware of Tata's record and chose him for the position anyway, or the White House didn't bother to vet him ahead of time.

Either scenario is far from ideal, though the former seems just a bit worse than the latter.

It's worth emphasizing that the position in question is not some random, unknown bureaucrat with limited influence. On the contrary, the president chose Tata to serve as the #3 highest ranking civilian at the Pentagon. As the original CNN report on Tata's record noted, the under secretary of defense for policy is responsible for "overseeing the Defense Department's policy shop, including its national security and defense strategy, nuclear deterrence and missile defense policy, and security cooperation plans and policies. The policy chief also closely advises the secretary of defense on national security and supports the Department of Defense's program and budget decisions."

It's not unreasonable to expect the White House to choose a measured, qualified official, not a conspiracy theorist the president saw on conservative television shows.