President Trump did not ask or order the Army to conduct the West Point graduation ceremony that is taking place in June, the Army secretary’s spokesperson said in an email to Breitbart News.
“The President did not order the Army to conduct the West Point Graduation,” said Army Lt. Col. Audricia Harris.
On whether Trump or the White House “asked” — versus ordered — the Army to proceed with the ceremony, she responded, “No.”
A West Point spokesman also told Breitbart News that West Point leadership was the one that came up with the June 13 date.
Despite the president not asking or ordering the ceremony to go forward on June 13, he has been slammed by Democrat lawmakers, leftist pundits, and activists for bringing 1,000 West Point cadets back to the campus and risking exposure to coronavirus.
Trump on Friday, April 17, announced he would be speaking at West Point’s graduation ceremony. “I understand they’ll have distancing,” he said.
The next day, Saturday, April 18, Trump announced the date of the ceremony, set for June 13. Four days later, on Wednesday, April 22, West Point put out an official announcement.
The New York Times reported on Friday, April 24 that Trump’s announcement had caught West Point officials by surprise. “That was news to everyone, including officials at West Point, according to three people involved with or briefed on the event.”
The report said West Point had been looking at the option of a delayed presidential commencement in June, but had yet to complete any plans. It is not clear who the “three people” were.
On Saturday evening, the Army put out a statement from Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy:
After careful consideration of the steps the Army can take to mitigate risk, I made the decision to proceed with the West Point graduation. We are fully committed to the health and safety of our Cadets and believe we can safely conduct the graduation ceremony and associated activities. Over the next couple of days, West Point leadership will communicate the plan. We are putting the appropriate measures in place to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and to protect our Force, Cadets and Families.
However, McCarthy’s Saturday evening statement garnered little notice, and the president’s critics continued to blame Trump for the ceremony. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) said on April 26 he was “endangering the lives of troops.”
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) on Trump making 1,000 cadets return to West Point for his commencement address, “He is expending a lot of taxpayers’ dollars for his own personal ego and endangering the lives of troops. The man has no shame.” pic.twitter.com/YwG7PQ53mR
— PoliticusUSA (@politicususa) April 26, 2020
McCarthy told the Washington Post in an April 28 report that he proposed the blueprint for the ceremony in part because it was a “critical milestone” for Army officers, and that cadets needed to return anyway to retrieve belongings left at the campus since spring break, and to complete administrative tasks before going to basic officer training in July.
We wanted to do a graduation ceremony because in many ways it’s a message to not only the force but the nation that we’re working our way through this. And we’re going to fight our way through this and continue to do what we need to grow the force, train the force and be ready to meet any national objective.
McCarthy also told the Post he was not pressured or directed by the White House to proceed with the ceremony.
Breitbart News queried the Army on Wednesday to confirm that Trump did not pressure the Army to proceed with the ceremony, but was told that Army leadership would brief on Thursday and that would be a good time to ask.
However, after McCarthy did not address that question during a Pentagon press briefing on Thursday, Breitbart News again queried the Army, getting the aforementioned response from McCarthy’s spokesperson.
Breitbart News also queried the Army whether West Point officials were “caught off-guard” by the president’s announcement on April 18.
A West Point spokesman said that Academy leadership came up with the June 13 date for the ceremony.
Army Lt. Col. Christopher Ophardt said in an email to Breitbart News:
West Point has been planning for graduation since last year knowing it was the President’s turn to be the commencement speaker. Cadets departed campus for Spring break on March 6. As conditions in New York deteriorated the decision was made to delay the cadets return to the Academy. Cadets have been attending classes virtually since. The Class of 2020 knew that at some point it would return to campus to graduate, commission as 2LT and pack their dorm rooms and eventually move to Army Officer Basic Training.
Ophardt added: “The Academy leadership has been holding planning meetings since March 9th as a part of a detailed and methodical planning process to determine the best way to bring the Cadets back to campus. As conditions started to improve in NY dates were starting to be floated to Army leadership and using current modeling West Point started focusing on June 13 believing that after Memorial Day would be the safest window for cadets to travel.”