WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump said Friday that he won't allow the Pentagon to cut funding for the military's independent newspaper, Stars and Stripes, effectively halting Defense leader's plan to shut the paper down this month.
"The United States of America will NOT be cutting funding to @starsandstripes magazine under my watch," Trump tweeted. "It will continue to be a wonderful source of information to our Great Military!"
The Defense Department has ordered the paper to halt publication by September 30 and dissolve the organization by the end of January. The order, in a recent memo to Stripes, follows the Pentagon's move earlier this year to cut the $15.5 million in funding for the paper from the Defense Department budget.
The Trump White House hadn't spoken out against the Pentagon plan to close the paper before Friday, even though it's been in the works and publicly written about for months and was in the president's budget request. Friday afternoon, however, Trump worked to shore up his reputation as a staunch supporter of the nation's armed services.
Trump was alleged to have made the comments about the war dead, calling them “losers,” as he was set to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery during a trip to France in November 2018, according to an article in The Atlantic.
Trump denied the allegations, calling them “fake news,” and the White House released a statement Friday that said, “President Trump holds the military in the highest regard.”
The Pentagon had no immediate comment on Trump's tweet regarding the Stars and Stripes or how it may affect Esper's plan to ultimately shut down the paper.
Members of Congress have objected to the defunding move for months. And senators sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper this week urging him to reinstate the money. The letter, signed by 15 senators — including Republicans and Democrats — also warns Esper that the department is legally prohibited from canceling a budget program while a temporary continuing resolution to fund the federal government is in effect.
"Stars and Stripes is an essential part of our nation's freedom of the press that serves the very population charged with defending that freedom," the senators said in the letter.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in a separate letter to Esper in late August, also voiced opposition to the move, calling Stripes "a valued 'hometown newspaper' for the members of the Armed Forces, their families, and civilian employees across the globe." He added that "as a veteran who has served overseas, I know the value that the Stars and Stripes brings to its readers."
In the memo, the department says Esper made the decision as a result of his department-wide budget review. Signed by Army Col. Paul Haverstick, acting director of the Pentagon's Defense Media Activity, the memo says plans to close the paper are due on September 15 and the last newspaper is to be published on September 30.
The memo adds that if the paper continues to be funded by either a continuing resolution "or other unforeseen circumstances" then Stripes must submit a plan by September 15 to shut down at the end of the next budget year, September 30, 2021. Haverstick's memo says that in that case, the last date for publication of the newspaper will be determined based on budget or other circumstances.
The Stripes ombudsman, Ernie Gates, told The Associated Press on Friday that shutting the paper down "would be fatal interference and permanent censorship of a unique First Amendment organization that has served U.S. troops reliably for generations."
The first newspaper called Stars and Stripes was very briefly produced in 1861 during the Civil War, but the paper began consistent publication during World War One. When the war was over, publication ended, only to restart in 1942 during World War Two, providing wartime news written by troops specifically for troops in battle.
Although the paper gets funding from the Defense Department, it is editorially independent and is delivered in print and digitally to troops all over the world.
The Pentagon proposed cutting the paper's funding when making its budget request earlier this year, triggering angry reactions from members of Congress.
The House-passed version of the Pentagon budget contains funding for the paper's publication, but the Senate has not yet finalized a defense funding bill.