Trump Vows to Keep Stars and Stripes Funded After Pentagon Moves to Shut It Down

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Command Sgt. Maj. John Sparks delivers copies of "Stars and Stripes" to Marines.
Command Sgt. Maj. John Sparks delivers copies of "Stars and Stripes" to Marines from Weapons Platoon, 3-2 India Company in An Nasiriyah, Iraq, April 4, 2014. (U.S. Army/Sgt. 1st Class David K. Dismukes)

President Donald Trump has, for the second time in weeks, says he's halting planned cuts to a Pentagon program -- this time vowing to keep the Stars and Stripes newspaper running after the Defense Department moved to close it down.

Trump tweeted on Friday that funds to Stars and Stripes would not be cut under his watch.

"It will continue to be a wonderful source of information to our Great Military!" the president tweeted.

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That was hours after USA Today reported on a Pentagon memo that said Stars and Stripes would end its publication by the end of September and dissolve the organization by early 2021. The plan to strip Stars and Stripes of more than $15 million was first announced in the Defense Department's 2021 budget request, prompting bipartisan backlash from lawmakers.

"We have essentially decided that ... coming into the modern age that a newspaper is probably not the best way that we communicate any longer," Elaine McCusker, former Defense Department comptroller, said at the time.

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Ernie Gates, the ombudsman at Stars and Stripes, said he's glad to see Trump make the commitment to reverse that decision.

"I hope to see details beyond the tweet from the Pentagon, to remove any uncertainty about what will happen when the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30," Gates said. "That should avoid disruption under the expected Continuing Resolution. Then the next step is for Congress to pass the 2021 Defense appropriation bill and authorization bill with Stars and Stripes funding ironclad."

The Defense Department did not immediately respond to questions about Trump's tweet, including what other programs, if any, would be at risk of losing money if Stripes is funded. The White House also did not respond to requests for comment.

Trump's tweet marks the second time in just over two weeks proposed cuts to Pentagon programs were overturned. On Aug. 17, Trump said he "totally rejected" a Pentagon proposal to slash $2.2 billion in spending to the military health care system.

"We will do nothing to hurt our great Military professionals & heroes as long as I am your President. Thank you!" he said.

Trump's announcement that Stripes funding would continue to help inform members of the military followed a damning Thursday night report from The Atlantic claiming that Trump disparaged fallen World War I troops during a 2018 visit to France. The magazine reported, based on four unnamed sources, that Trump asked why he would visit a cemetery filled with Marines who died at Belleau Wood.

They were "suckers" for getting killed, Trump said, according to the Atlantic.

"Why should I go to that cemetery? It's filled with losers," he reportedly added, according to the magazine.

Trump and other White House officials have denied the claims made in the report, saying they had "no basis in fact."

Stars and Stripes has served as an important news outlet for troops dating back to the Civil War. The publication has about 1.3 million print and online readers, The New York Times reported on Friday. Supporters have said the paper is a particularly important news source to troops serving overseas or aboard Navy ships.

Jennifer Hlad, a former Stars and Stripes reporter, tweeted on Friday troops she met in Afghanistan had very limited or no internet access.

"Troops usually aren't going to go to the USO or use their one hour of access to read news online, which means [Stars and Stripes] is their only news source," she said.

Jeff Schogol, another former Stripes reporter now with Task & Purpose, told the Times that as troops are told to leave their phones at home on deployments over electromagnetic signature concerns, they're likely to rely on the paper downrange.

"The Russians and Chinese cannot jam or launch a denial of service attack against physical copies of a newspaper," Schogol told the Times.

-- Oriana Pawlyk contributed to this report.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Related: Pentagon Orders Shutdown of Stars and Stripes Newspaper

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