Temporary Department of Defense top politician, retired officer and conspiracy theorist Anthony Tata, tested positive for coronavirus after meeting a virus-infected foreign official who recently visited the Pentagon and a building that is still being rocked by outgoing President Donald , Trump's recent purge of top officials brought even more turmoil.
Tata, who was named Undersecretary of State for Politics last week following the sacking of his predecessor by incumbent Defense Secretary Chris Miller, tested positive for the virus after meeting Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis. The Lithuanian embassy informed the Pentagon on Thursday that Karoblis had signed COVID-19.
Tata will be quarantined at home for the next two weeks, but Miller and the secretaries who met with Karoblis will continue to attend meetings at the Pentagon.
“The department has learned a lot from COVID over the past 10 months, and we even recently committed to scrutinizing policies [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] regarding mitigation measures – face covering, social distancing, contact tracing, hand washing follow and virtual engagements, among other things, "Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement Thursday evening after Bloomberg first reported that Tata had contracted the virus.
While the Pentagon has publicly asserted that it is following CDC's guidelines on coronavirus, two officials inside the building said, on condition of anonymity, that routine mask use under Tata's predecessor, James Anderson, fell by the wayside Trump loyalists often avoid them.
Although the dismissed Secretary of Defense Mark Esper often wore masks at public events and meetings with foreign leaders, Miller and Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who serve as both the undersecretary of state for intelligence and the top civilian oversight of the Pentagon for special forces, also have they take off their masks for a close-up photo op in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina on Wednesday. Masking policies had come under pressure in the weeks leading up to Anderson's fall, when Pentagon's new White House liaison officer Joshua Whitehouse raised complaints about frequently entering the insurance office without a mask or testing his temperature.
The Pentagon didn't immediately respond to questions about who would fill Tata's job as he self-isolated through Thanksgiving and into December.
However, according to an order of succession memo signed by Miller last week, the move would prompt Thomas Williams – a former career official who was pushed to multiple levels by a National Security Council post this year – to accept the duties of Undersecretary while Michael Cutrone, who joined the Pentagon in May as a civil servant, feared for the first time the purge of people who were not loyal to Trump would serve as the deputy undersecretary's duties.
The memo also removes two Senate-approved officials, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities Victorino Mercado and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Home Defense Kenneth Rapuano. Mercado had previously served as assistant undersecretary of state at the Policy Shop, and officials said he was helping Miller's newly minted deputy chief of staff Joe Francescon, a Trump loyalist who was an under-secretary just six months ago, to study with Kash Patel, the new chief of staff, has worked out a role as a so-called body man. Instead, Miller has successively installed Jennifer Walsh, Rapuano's senior vice president, as head of insurance.
Miller, a former green beret who has served in Afghanistan and Iraq, has also underscored his credentials in meetings with senior officials because he is not qualified to run the Pentagon. Although he made major policy changes in his first week as acting secretary, including a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, and reporting directly to the assistant secretary of defense for special operations to the Pentagon chief, he made no record of any questions Press. He ignored questions from reporters after making a statement on troop withdrawals on Tuesday and during a bilateral meeting on Thursday.