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Kellyanne Conway says trans military ban is ‘forthcoming’

Kellyanne Conway speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Kellyanne Conway, a senior advisor to President Trump, appeared on ABC News’ “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” Sunday and was asked about the series of unexpected Trump tweets posted on July 26 announcing a ban on transgender military service. She confirmed that a tweet is not the same as a policy, that the policy change had been discussed for a “very long time,” and the new policy guidance, order and law “obviously are forthcoming.”

Stephanopoulous noted that Trump said he had consulted with “my generals and military experts,” and concluded that “the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.” The reason, despite a Pentagon-commissioned study that said otherwise: “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.

The Rand study last year estimated  “the number of transgender individuals currently serving in the active component of the U.S. military at between 1,320 and 6,630 out of a total of about 1.3 million service members….25 to 130 gender transition-related surgeries could be utilized a year among active component service members. Additional health care costs could range between $2.4 million and $8.4 million, representing an approximate 0.13-percent increase.”

Stephanopoulous noted that the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of staff said he’s going to wait for an official order from the president before the Pentagon moves forward; the commandant of the Coast Guard said he’s backing his transgender servicemembers; and Sec. of Defense General Mattis, who was on vacation, was apparently blindsided by Trump’s tweet.

“So what I want to know is specifically which generals and military experts signed off on that tweet from the president?” Stephanopoulous asked.

“Well, first of all, the tweet didn’t make policy, the tweet announced policy,” Conway responded. “This had been a conversation, discussions had with generals and other stakeholders for a very long time. The president announced it through the form that he does that cuts out the middle man.”

The ABC News host persisted: “But which ones signed off on it?”

Conway repeated herself and obfuscated, noting that “the Pentagon is a big place. If you find five or 10 people who say, we had no idea, 100 people say we had no idea, that doesn’t mean that everybody there who needed to know. I don’t know when everybody at the Pentagon found out, but the president has made very clear what his policy is.

“The next steps, George, as you know, are to have policy guidance and to put the order out and to work with the stakeholders, obviously General Mattis — Secretary Mattis and others, to implement this new policy,” she said.

Stephanopoulos asked again, which generals signed off on the tweet before Trump sent it out?

“I can’t answer that because I wasn’t in the room when they discussed it with him,” Conway said, verbally wiggling a bit. “And I certainly aren’t on the National Security Council. But I will tell you, having spoken with the president directly about this and having been involved a little bit in the discussions that the president had consulted for quite a while with different stakeholders, including his generals.”

Stephanopoulos did not ask about those stakeholders, which included the Family Research Council, to whom Trump had apparently made a promise about trans servicemembers.

“[Trump] makes decisions based upon what he believes is right, but more importantly, what he committed to, FRC head Tony Perkins told the Christian Broadcast Network after the tweets. Additionally, Trump is “committed, along with the Republican Party platform, that the social engineering that has been in our military that the previous administration foisted upon the military would stop.”

“That’s what he’s doing. He’s only doing what he committed he would do,” Perkins said.

Conway did not put it in those same terms, or identify FRC or any of Trump’s Religious Right advisors, but deflects to President Obama.

“What he says in the tweet is absolutely true, he consults with generals and others about this issue. And, you know, President Obama took late in the game action. I mean, everybody runs around acting like he had a particular policy for all eight years,” she said. “He did not. And you know that. He took late in the game action. And the president is now acting early in his administration because he believes in military readiness and he believes in unit cohesion. This is what he has said. This is what others have said.”

Conway ended it there: “And but the policy guidance and the exact order and the final configuration of the law obviously are forthcoming.”

Sources familiar with the Guidance say the new policy has passed muster with the White House Counsel’s Office but has not yet been sent to Defense Sec. Mattis.