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Allegations That Trump Interfered In U.S. Space Command HQ Decision Linger

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White House Photo
Members of Colorado's congressional delegation are fighting the Trump administration's decision to move U.S. Space Command from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs to the Army's Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama.

In the waning days of Donald Trump’s presidency, the Air Force announced that the headquarters for the U.S. Space Command should be located in Alabama. The decision meant that the command must be pulled out of Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs in the coming years and has spawned allegations of political favoritism from members of Colorado’s congressional delegation.

“In the end, a decision was made, I think, by the president to move Space Command to Alabama,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet told KUNC.

Asked how sure he was that Trump was involved in the decision, Bennet added, “I'm pretty sure that he was in the room when the decision was made and we'll see.”

Bennet, a Democrat, pointed to two ongoing reviews looking into the decision by the Defense Department’s Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office, the watchdog arm of Congress.

Not to be confused with the Space Force, U.S. Space Command is a combatant command created by the Trump administration in 2019 to protect the vast network of satellites that provide things most Americans take for granted — everything from global positioning to electronic banking.

“A lot of people don't know this, but we're in a battle in space,” Bennet said.

Russia, China, India and the United States have demonstrated the ability to destroy satellites. Some tests have resulted in thousands of pieces of debris in orbit. The command acts to deter and protect against attacks and will in the coming years mean hundreds of additional jobs that would have added to Colorado’s $7-billion-a-year military and aerospace economy.

Back in February of 2020, high hopes that the command would stay in the state were bolstered by Trump during a campaign stop.

“You have all of the infrastructure,” Trump told a crowd in Colorado Springs. “So you're being very strongly considered for the Space Command, very strongly.”

On stage was now-former U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, as Trump told supporters that Democratic Gov. Jared Polis had approached him about the command.

“He showed up because he wanted to lobby to see if they could get it,” Trump said. “That's OK. All right. And we are going to be making that decision, Cory, when we make that decision.”

At that time, Air Force administrators were working from a short list of potential HQ sites. Four of them were in Colorado, including Peterson. Two others were out of state, including Redstone Arsenal. Then, weeks later, Air Force officials announced they would reset the process in an effort to make it more transparent and allow all states to apply.

“They just decided they were going to redo the process and they did, I think, a pretty shabby job,” Bennet said.

In their announcement, officials highlighted some of the criteria by which applicants would be judged, like the availability of a qualified workforce; infrastructure, including housing and child care; community factors, including the quality of schools; and how much it would cost the Air Force.

What appears to have been overlooked in the process are national security considerations, Bennet said.

“We are home here in Colorado to an unparalleled combination of military and intelligence space activities, and they have overlapping missions,” Bennet said. “The co-location of those missions ensures that the United States is best prepared to face threats in space.”

The concern goes beyond Colorado. Adam Schiff and Mark Warner, the chairs of the House and Senate intelligence committees, respectively, share similar concerns and have voiced them in letters to President Joe Biden.

“Space Command is a uniquely technological and specialized command that relies very heavily on a civilian and contractor workforce and Colorado has that in a way that the other states do not,” Jason Crow, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said.

Crow, a Democrat, also raised concern about allegations that Trump played politics.

“This, unfortunately, would not be inconsistent with the way that Donald Trump did business as president,” Crow said.

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White House photo
Former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence with military officials in a 2019 Rose Garden ceremony formally creating U.S. Space Command.

Add the voice of a Colorado Republican — U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a member of the Armed Services Committee and a staunch Trump supporter. During a June 16, 2021 committee hearing, Lamborn grilled acting Air Force Secretary John Roth about the command basing process.

“Our understanding is that this was a political decision made by the last administration and the Air Force, while initially selecting Colorado Springs, had to go back and scramble to justify a different siting decision,” Lamborn said.

Roth responded: “I have personally no evidence that the decision was politically motivated. It was the result of our strategic basing process.”

Lamborn noted Huntsville is known for rocketry, missile defense and civilian space — but not military space. He articulated another concern held by many in Colorado’s delegation — that moving the command to Huntsville would be costly to taxpayers. The Air Force, he said, has already invested millions of dollars to upgrade Space Command’s facilities at Peterson, but the decision did not “even consider keeping” the headquarters in that building.

Roth told the committee that a new building would have to be built in either Colorado or Alabama and that the cost of doing so in Alabama is cheaper.

He went on, however, to acknowledge the ongoing Pentagon and GAO investigations, saying, “I will yield to them and see what it is, in fact, they find.”

Those investigations are expected to wrap up later this year.

KUNC reached out to the Office of Donald Trump for comment, but our request went unanswered.

Meanwhile, a big “if” hovers over the move. The Air Force considers Redstone Arsenal its “preferred” alternative to headquarter the command. It must clear other hurdles, including environmental assessments — a process that could drag into 2023. Meanwhile, the command is expected to keep working from Peterson AFB for at least the next five years.

In that time, Colorado’s delegation is expected to keep fighting. The latest effort includes an invitation to Vice President Kamala Harris to visit the state to learn about Space Command’s mission and the associated missions and military and civilian workforce in the area.

“We’re going to leave no stone unturned as we fight to make sure the right decision is made here,” Bennet said.

As investigative reporter for KUNC, I take tips from our audience and, well, investigate them. I strive to go beyond the obvious, to reveal new facts, to go in-depth and to bring new perspectives and personalities to light.