Opposition parties expressed anger over a junior Cheong Wa Dae official’s meeting with the Army chief of staff to discuss personnel matters, calling it “unconstitutional” and “an abuse of authority.”
It has been revealed that an assistant secretary to the president, then 34, met with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Kim Yong-woo at a cafe in September 2017 just before the Army announced promotions to the rank of general. The presidential aide, surnamed Jung, said he had lost a document that contained the profiles of Army general candidates on his way back to the office after the meeting, having left it in his car while stepping outside to smoke. The Blue House said Jung had requested the meeting as a way to learn about the promotion process within the Army.
The main opposition Liberty Korea Party floor spokesman, Lee Man-hee, said in a statement Tuesday that he could not help but ask the presidential office, which recently downplayed revelations from its in-house investigator, whether its junior official and the Army chief of staff were of similar rank.
“It is clearly against the Constitution and an abuse of authority for presidential aides to command those responsible in government offices,” Lee said.
In response to Cheong Wa Dae’s remarks that there was no reason for a presidential aide, be it a senior secretary or an assistant secretary, not to be allowed to meet with the Army’s chief of staff, Lee said the Blue House did not seem to grasp the situation.
Liberty Korea Party lawmakers on the national defense committee also accused the presidential office of “ignoring the personnel affairs procedures (set forth by law) and abusing its power,” adding that they suspected interference in military personnel matters by “invisible external powers.”
“It is an insult to the military that an assistant secretary to the president meets the Army chief of staff, who leads military operations, in an outside cafe,” the lawmakers said at a press conference.
“It must be found out whether he met with the Navy and Air Force chiefs of staff. It is nothing but a joke that he lost a document that holds level-two classified military information while smoking.”
At the mysterious meeting just four months into the Moon Jae-in administration, Jung and Kim were joined by an Army colonel working at the National Security Office of the Blue House.
The colonel, surnamed Shim, began working at the presidential office after serving on the task force to prepare former Defense Minister Song Young-moo for a parliamentary hearing on his nomination as minister, the lawmakers said.
In December 2017, three months after meeting the Army chief of staff at the cafe, Shim was promoted to brigadier general.
The minor opposition Bareunmirae Party issued a similar statement, saying an Army chief of staff should not have to run at the call of an assistant-level presidential aide.
The party’s floor leader, Kim Kwan-young, said an inquiry must be conducted to find out why they met, what they discussed and how the document was lost.
“The indiscipline of presidential aides has gone too far,” Kim said during a floor meeting on Tuesday.
“Those in state affairs are not there to test (their own ideas), but to take responsibility. The post of an assistant secretary to the president is not for some irresponsible, low-skilled person who loses his briefcase -- be it official or private documents.”
Jung, who was hired by Cheong Wa Dae two months after he passed the bar exam, offered to resign after losing the document.
By Kim So-hyun (email@example.com)