Defense Secretary Mark Esper earlier this week sent a memo to service members and defense employees urging them to remain “apolitical” and avoid any actions that could imply endorsement of a political party, candidate, or campaign.
Titled “Ethical Conduct and Political Activities,” the memo said:
All Department of Defense personnel must be steadfast in our commitment to defend the Constitution and our Nation’s democratic principles. As citizens, we exercise our right to vote and participate in government. However, as public servants who have taken an oath to defend these principles, we uphold DoD’s longstanding tradition of remaining apolitical as we carry out our official responsibilities.
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. Leaders will review the rules governing participation by DoD personnel in political activities and direct widest dissemination of the guidance in this memorandum to their teams.
Esper’s memo was dated February 5, 2020. It is not clear what prompted the directive, but it comes as the 2020 presidential election season is getting underway and amid a week of momentous political events.
The Iowa caucuses took place on Tuesday, marking the first of the campaign season. President Trump delivered his State of the Union speech on Wednesday, which highlighted veterans, members of the military, and their families. He was acquitted of articles of impeachment on Thursday. The New Hampshire primaries take place on Tuesday.
Esper also reminded personnel to complete mandatory ethics training, and urged military and civilian leaders to regularly discuss ethics and values with their teams.
“Lead by your example. I am proud to serve with each of you who uphold the values and high standards of our Nation and the Department of Defense. Together, we will remain the most ready and capable military force that our Nation expects and deserves,” he said in the letter.
He also attached a memo he wrote on ethics in August 2019.