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Pentagon chief purges defense boards of Trump appointees

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered hundreds of Pentagon advisory board members to resign this month as part of a broad review of the panels, essentially purging several dozen last-minute appointments under the Trump administration.

During the last two months of his tenure, former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller removed a number of longtime members from several defense policy, health, science and business boards and replaced many with loyalists of former President Donald Trump. More than 30 of those replacements will now be forced to resign, including former GOP House speaker Newt Gingrich, retired Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

“I am directing the immediate suspension of all advisory committee operations until the review is completed unless otherwise directed by myself or the deputy secretary of defense,” Austin said in a memo released Tuesday. And he ordered all committee members who are appointed by the defense secretary to resign no later than Feb. 16.

Tata, a former Fox News commentator, failed to get through Senate confirmation because of offensive remarks he had made, including about Islam. He was appointed acting defense undersecretary for policy in November, just days after Trump fired Pentagon chief Mark Esper and put Miller in the job. Miller appointed Tata to the Defense Policy Board on Jan. 19, his last full day on the job. Gingrich was appointed to that same board. Lewandowski was appointed to the Defense Business Board.

A senior defense official said Austin’s decision was driven by the frenetic activity of Miller to remove dozens of board members and replace them in such a short amount of time between Trump’s election loss and the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said Austin believed that stopping the activity of all the boards and doing a more intensive review was the fairest and most consistent process.

Officials said the review will look at whether the boards have overlapping jurisdictions and whether they should be realigned or if money could be saved by trimming some of them. It also will make recommendations on the membership balance, size and mission of all the boards.