(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool, File)
The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) required that the President release an annual report to Congress and the American people, providing a critical, up-to-date overview of the President’s interpretation of when, where, how, why, and against whom he believes the President is authorized to use military force. To ensure the Trump administration would continue the practice of thorough disclosures, Congress codified the release of an annual “War Powers Transparency Report” through a provision in the 2018 NDAA. The 2020 NDAA further strengthens that mandate by setting an annual March 1st deadline to submit the report to the relevant congressional committees and to the American people in an unclassified version.
President Trump has failed to meet the March 1st deadline.
This report is vital because, without a full view of Trump’s interpretation of the legal authority for the President to use military force, Congress cannot effectively consider, analyze, debate, or act to modify the scope of the President’s authority and military engagements. Likewise, the American people cannot understand and hold their government accountable for the scope of U.S. military operations, despite the tremendous cost, in dollars and lives, that the people are asked to bear.
President Trump’s War Powers Transparency Report could reveal his administration’s view of its legal authority for:
- A March 2019 executive order revoking a previously established requirement that committed the government to annual public reporting on civilian casualties as a result of U.S. military action
- The June 2019 suggestion that the U.S. may use military force against Iran in collective defense of U.S. partner forces
- The January 2020 killing of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, including whether and how President Trump took into account the risk of escalation in military actions against Iran.
As consideration of the 2021 NDAA begins in Congress, it is essential that the War Powers Transparency Report is released as required by law. Without access to the report, plaintiffs Wittes and Anderson, two national security law experts and writers-editors of Lawfare — a publication that covers national security issues — cannot fully explain to the public how this administration conceives of its war-making authority. The same is true of Protect Democracy’s ability to educate the public and conduct effective external oversight.
On June 9, 2020, we filed a complaint and petition for a writ of mandamus requesting a court order compelling the White House to publish the legally-required report. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.