White House and military officials are dismissing criticism of a Republican video featuring two uniformed Marines that was aired as part of the party’s convention Tuesday night, saying their presence was simply part of their official duties.
The controversy came exactly one week after Democratic Party leaders received criticism for featuring a pair of Army reserve soldiers in uniform during their convention broadcast. That incident prompted a still-ongoing investigation from military officials.
But Marine Corps officials said they are not looking into whether Tuesday night’s Republican convention video constituted similar violations about the use of Defense Department imagery and uniformed service members in political campaigns.
“The Marines in the footage of the ceremony at the White House were at their assigned place of duty,” she said. “Their official duty is to assist the president in office, those duties include opening doors for the president,” Marine Corps spokeswoman Maj. Melanie Salinas said in an email Wednesday morning.
The problematic scene came about midway through the second night of the convention, during a prerecorded segment where President Donald Trump oversaw a naturalization ceremony for five immigrants hosted at the White House.
Critics blasted several aspects of the video as violating rules regarding the use of federal property and personnel in political campaigns, including the use of the White House for a partisan event and the presence of acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.
They also questioned whether the entire event was staged solely for use as a convention highlight.
The two Marines were featured for a few moments in the video as they opened doors for the president to enter the East Wing of the White House.
An administration official said Wednesday that the move did not violate any federal politicking rules because “the White House publicized the content of the event on a public website (that) afternoon and the campaign decided to use the publicly available content for campaign purposes. There was no violation of law.”
Defense Department officials referred all questions to the White House.
In recent months, military leaders have reminded troops about rules regarding participation in political campaigns, including prohibitions on wearing uniforms to a “partisan political event.”
In response to the Democratic convention controversy last week, Army officials released a statement saying all soldiers should “avoid the perception of DoD sponsorship, approval or endorsement of any political candidate, campaign or cause.
“Examples of prohibited political activities include campaigning for a candidate, soliciting contributions, marching in a partisan parade and wearing the uniform to a partisan event.”
Trump has received significant criticism for politicizing the military in recent months, including his suggestion that active-duty personnel could be used to quell protests for racial equality in U.S. cities and the appearance of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley at a controversial photo-op outside the White House in June.
The naturalization ceremony on Tuesday was not the only aspect of the Republican convention to attract scrutiny for violations of the Hatch Act, the 1939 law that limits political activities for federal employees.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on official travel to Israel, delivered a convention address from overseas that department officials insisted did not run afoul of campaigning rules. First lady Melania Trump delivered her convention remarks from the White House rose garden, again raising questions of whether the venue was inappropriate for a political event.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.