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Warren, Grassley Pressure Pentagon on Retired Servicemembers Working for Foreign Governments

Government and Politics

December 6, 2022


WASHINGTON – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III raising concerns about the Defense Department (DoD)’s frequent approval of high-ranking retired military members’ work for foreign governments. The senators’ concerns follow recent investigative reporting by the Washington Post detailing scores of retired U.S. servicemembers who took lucrative jobs with foreign governments.

“These findings are concerning and demand explanation. The DoD must ensure that former servicemembers don’t run afoul of their constitutional oath and that they follow applicable filing and reporting requirements. While statutory enforcement is limited, the DoD may withhold retirement pay and benefits from those former servicemembers who flout the filing and approval requirements for employment by foreign powers … The apparent lack of internal policing in this matter is gravely troubling given the national security interests at stake,” the senators wrote in their letter.

The Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution and federal law require approval by the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense before a retired servicemember can take a job with a foreign government to prevent any conflicts of interest and to preserve national security. Reporting indicates that these arrangements were approved 95 percent of the time. It remains unclear how many retired servicemembers never sought necessary approval prior to working for foreign governments.

Senator Warren has led efforts to fight government corruption and the revolving door that lets former government officials cash in on their service.

    Senator Warren’s Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act is sweeping anti-corruption legislation that would rein in corruption, strengthen ethics, end lobbying as we know it, improve the integrity of the judiciary, and reform campaign finance law.

    Her DoD Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act (S. 2396) would require the explicit approval of the Secretary of State for all former senior officials of the White House and Departments of State, Defense, and Treasury who seek paid work for a foreign government or non-governmental foreign entity, and bans former senior Pentagon officials from lobbying and behind-the-scenes lobbying DoD for four years.

    Senator Warren has introduced legislation that would ensure compliance with the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause by requiring the President and Vice President to disclose and divest any potential financial conflicts of interest, and requiring presidential appointees to recuse themselves from any specific matters involving the President’s financial conflicts of interest that come before their agencies.

    On October 3, 2022, Senator Warren sent a letter to the Brookings Institution, seeking answers about how Brooking ensures its funding agreements from foreign governments do not undermine the independence of its research and expressing concerns that the organization is not able to ensure its leaders are avoiding illegal or inappropriate lobbying.

    On July 15, 2022, Senator Warren sent a letter to the Brookings Institution following reports that former Marine Corps General John R. Allen, the former President of the Brookings Institution, is under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for making false statements and withholding documents about his role in possible illegal lobbying for the government of Qatar.

    On November 29, 2018, Senator Warren sent letters to 23 U.S. lobbying firms regarding past and present contracts for lobbying work for the Saudi government.

    On November 15, 2018, Senator Warren sent a letter to three private consulting firms requesting information about services provided by the three companies to the Saudi government.  The senator's letter asks the firms about their relationship with the Saudi government and questions their business with the Kingdom in the wake of its apparently premeditated assassination of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi.

    In October 2018, Senator Warren sent a letter to McKinsey & Company requesting information about the scope of its consulting services to, or for the benefit of, the Saudi government and requesting that a full, transparent accounting of how McKinsey's work may have enabled the Kingdom to repress critics and commit other human rights abuses.

    In 2015, Senator Warren sent a letter to Brookings questioning financial conflicts of interest and previously undisclosed financial industry editorial input into a report questioning the Department of Labor’s Conflict of Interest rule.

    Senator Warren has also worked to secure commitments from nominees — including Secretary Austin and other Department of Defense nominees — on ethics standards.

Text of Letter