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Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police


Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Rebecca Kheel, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: Washington is being rocked by a bipartisan uproar over reports that the intelligence community concluded months ago that Russia offered bounties to incentivize Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan.

Lawmakers, including a chorus of Republicans who are typically reticent to confront President TrumpDonald John TrumpIntelligence suggests Russian bounties led to deaths of several US troops in Afghanistan: report Obama called Philonise Floyd before brother’s memorial service: NYT President Trump tries to cover his tracks by attacking the rule of law MORE, are demanding answers as Trump seeks to deflect blame and responsibility.

But congressional Republicans and Democrats — calling the reported Russian operation “egregious” and “disturbing” — say Trump’s explanations only raise more questions that the administration must answer immediately.

“Anything with any hint of credibility that would endanger our service members, much less put a bounty on their lives, to me, should have been briefed immediately to the commander-in-chief and a plan to deal with that situation,” said Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: Army to drop photos from soldier records to reduce racial bias | House defense bill backs B pandemic preparedness fund | Bill targets potential troop drawdowns House defense bill backs B pandemic preparedness fund House panel launches investigation into Roosevelt coronavirus outbreak after captain’s firing upheld MORE (Texas), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, who is retiring from Congress at the end of this term.

Background: The New York Times first reported Friday that the intelligence community concluded months ago that a unit within the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, secretly offered payments to Taliban-linked militants for attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan last year.

Trump was briefed on the intelligence and that officials had deliberated potential response options but that the White House had not authorized any further action, the report said.

The Washington Post then reported Sunday that intelligence assessments concluded the Russian bounties led to the deaths of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Other news outlets have since confirmed the Times reporting, with some newspapers citing British government officials, who were briefed by the U.S. last week on the intelligence.

White House responses: Statements by the White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) have disputed that Trump was briefed but have not addressed the credibility of the intelligence.

Shortly after the Post’s Sunday report, Trump claimed the intelligence was not credible.

“Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP,” Trump tweeted late Sunday night. “Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News @nytimesbooks, wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!”

Trump, however, stands alone in questioning the accuracy of the intelligence. Later Monday afternoon, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said there was “no consensus” and “dissenting opinions” within the intelligence community about the credibility of the information, remarks that are markedly different from Trump’s claims.

She did not answer questions about whether elements of the intelligence were included in Trump’s Daily Presidential Briefing. 

Briefing for Republicans, Dems call for more: On Monday, the White House briefed at least seven Republicans: Thornberry, House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulWhite House denies it was briefed about Afghan militant bounties GOP lawmakers voice support for Israeli plan to annex areas in West Bank Sunday shows preview: Bolton delivers bombshell while US tackles COVID-19, police brutality MORE (Texas) and Reps. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyGOP committee chair: ‘It would help’ if Trump would wear a mask occasionally Top GOP lawmaker calls for answers from White House after report on Russian bounties on US forces Arkansas governor urges ‘consistent national message’ on wearing masks MORE (Wyo.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Jim Banks (Ind.), Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerInternal watchdog investigating if Air Force improperly used plane to surveil protests: report Republicans walk tightrope on police reform The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: National Portrait Gallery’s Kim Sajet says this era rewiring people’s relationship with culture, art; Trump’s war with Twitter heats up MORE (Ill.) and Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikArmy set to welcome first woman Green Beret next month The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Geopolitical adviser Parag Khanna criticizes US, China leadership on virus; US COVID-19 cases reach highest single-day level NY Republicans call on McConnell to provide .9B in additional MTA funding MORE (N.Y.), a source familiar with the meeting said. 

Democratic leaders are calling for briefings for the full House and Senate.

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden’s record-setting tax increases will take your money — and your job GOP committee chair: ‘It would help’ if Trump would wear a mask occasionally Democratic officials, governors push for nationwide mask mandate as administration defends state-by-state approach MORE (D-Calif.) sent a letter Monday to Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeTop GOP lawmaker calls for answers from White House after report on Russian bounties on US forces Bolton asks court to dismiss DOJ suit, citing failure to state a claim DOJ seeks temporary restraining order blocking Bolton book release MORE and CIA Director Gina HaspelGina Cheri HaspelObama’s ‘rule of law’ hypocrisy Former CIA chief: Not ‘right’ for Haspel to applaud at State of the Union Schiff schedules public hearing with US intel chief  MORE requesting a full-House briefing, saying that “Congress and the country need answers now.” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerWake up, America — see what’s coming Tim Scott shares racist and threatening messages he’s received over police reform bill Trump administration ending support for 7 Texas testing sites as coronavirus cases spike MORE (D-N.Y.) released his own statement, making the same request for the two intelligence leaders to immediately brief senators.

Thornberry and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Army to drop photos from soldier records to reduce racial bias | House defense bill backs B pandemic preparedness fund | Bill targets potential troop drawdowns House defense bill targets potential troop drawdowns in Africa, South Korea House defense bill backs B pandemic preparedness fund MORE (D-Wash.) have also demanded a briefing from the Pentagon for their full committee this week, but Thornberry and a Democratic committee spokesperson said they have not received a response from the Defense Department.

“If the reports are true, that the administration knew about this Russian operation and did nothing, they have broken the trust of those who serve and the commitment to their families to ensure their loved one’s safety,” Smith said in a statement Monday. “It is imperative that the House Armed Services Committee receive detailed answers from the Department of Defense.”

The Pentagon “has received the invitation” from Smith and Thornberry and “is working to address the request,” department spokesman Jessica Maxwell said. The department declined to comment on the reports about the intelligence.

NDAA AMENDMENTS TARGET HOT BUTTON ISSUES: The Senate’s version of the annual defense policy bill cleared another procedural hurdle Monday, with senators voting 89-4 on a motion to proceed.

National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) amendments are also still rolling in. As mentioned in this space before, hundreds of amendments are filed to the NDAA every year but only a handful normally end up getting a roll-call vote on the floor.  

One amendment from a bipartisan group of senators tries to place limits on Trump’s ability to remove troops from Germany unless the administration is able to meet a slew of requirements. 

The proposal, spearheaded by Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBiden campaign adds staff in three battleground states GOP warns against ramping down coronavirus testing Republican Scott Taylor wins Virginia primary, to face Elaine Luria in rematch MORE (R-Utah), would prohibit the administration from reducing the number of active-duty troops in Germany below 34,500 unless the Pentagon can certify to Congress that it is in the national security interest of the United States and would not negatively undermine European alliances or NATO. 

It would also require the Defense secretary to certify that the move would not impact the U.S. military’s ability to “execute contingency plans,” wouldn’t negatively impact ongoing operations, won’t impact military families and that the Pentagon has consulted with allies including NATO and Germany.  

Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDemocrats optimistic about chances of winning Senate Gridlock mires chances of police reform deal Jaime Harrison: GOP police reform bill ‘doesn’t go far enough’ MORE (R-S.C.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP committee chair: ‘It would help’ if Trump would wear a mask occasionally Police reform in limbo after Senate setback On The Money: Trump, GOP clash over new round of checks | Dow sinks more than 700 points as COVID-19 surge shakes Wall Street | Senate Dems raise concerns about debit cards used for stimulus payments MORE (R-Fla.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsClose Biden ally says he is open to ending the filibuster Senators offer bill to expand charitable giving tax break Dems request watchdog probe use of federal law enforcement in DC during Floyd protests MORE (D-Del.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats optimistic about chances of winning Senate Police reform in limbo after Senate setback Trade groups make lobbying push to be included in small business loan program MORE (D-Va.) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Dems, GOP dig in on police reform ahead of House vote Senators offer bill to expand charitable giving tax break Klobuchar withdraws from Biden VP contention MORE (D-N.H.) are co-sponsoring the proposal.  

In addition to Romney’s amendment, Graham filed a separate proposal throwing the Senate’s support behind the U.S.-Germany relationship. 

“The presence of United States military forces in Germany is a strong deterrent against Russian aggression in Europe and strengthens the capability of NATO,” Graham’s resolution reads.

Limiting military equipment for police: Another bipartisan group of senators introduced an NDAA amendment Monday to limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to local law enforcement agencies, a practice that has come under increased scrutiny amid protests against police brutality sparked by George Floyd’s death last month.

Sens. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzHillicon Valley: Justice Department announces superseding indictment against WikiLeaks’ Assange | Facebook ad boycott gains momentum | FBI sees spike in coronavirus-related cyber threats | Boston city government bans facial recognition technology Bipartisan senators introduce legislation to update tech liability protections FAA says it won’t make masks on planes mandatory MORE (D-Hawaii), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Energy: Trump wants to open up 82 percent of Alaska reserve for drilling | Trump directs aid to Maine lobster industry crushed by tariffs | Conservation bill creates strange bedfellows Trump administration wants to open up 82 percent of Alaska reserve for drilling GOP warns against ramping down coronavirus testing MORE (R-Alaska), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – As virus concerns grow, can it get worse for Trump? Gridlock mires chances of police reform deal The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Dems, GOP dig in on police reform ahead of House vote MORE (D-Calif.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulHillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill banning federal government use of facial recognition tech | House lawmakers roll out legislation to establish national cyber director | Top federal IT official to step down GOP lawmakers join social media app billed as alternative to Big Tech Trump, GOP clash over new round of checks MORE (R-Ky.) are offered the measure.

“There is a growing bipartisan consensus that giving local law enforcement military equipment such as bayonets, grenade launchers, armor-piercing bullets, and tear gas is immoral and does nothing to keep people safe,” Schatz said in a statement. 

The bipartisan proposal would place limits on the Pentagon’s 1033 Program, which allows the Defense Department to pass on excess equipment to local agencies, by prohibiting the transfer of equipment including tear gas, armor-piercing firearms and ammunition, bayonets, grenade launchers and grenades, combat tracked vehicles, and drones, according to a release from Schatz’s office.

The proposed amendment would not prohibit the transfer of defensive equipment.

The program has been back in the spotlight amid nationwide protests against police brutality and racial inequality sparked by Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody. 

In the House: This week is also a big week for the NDAA in the lower chamber as the House Armed Services Committee prepares to consider its version Wednesday.

In his conference call with reporters Monday, Thornberry predicted an amendment on the Germany issue, but said lawmakers are still in discussion about the exact language.

Thornberry was also asked where he stands on the issue of renaming Confederate-named bases. Thornberry would not explicitly state where he stands on the expected amendment to require the Pentagon do that, citing the fact that the exact language is still being worked out.

But he said bases’ local communities should be given ample say in the matter rather than lawmakers “making rash decisions in the heat of the moment.”

“I think most everybody is willing to move forward in some way,” he said. “It’s a question of how and when and, for me, making sure that all of these folks who care about this, have an interest in this are heard from.”

“I just am always hesitant about Congress having a know-it-all attitude without even talking to the folks who live there,” he added. “The country’s eyes have been opened a lot on residual racism and evidence of it over the past several weeks. And in many ways, I think that’s a healthy thing. … So I think that’s good, we just need to, again, not assume that we know everything in Washington better than the rest of the country.”

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hear from outside experts on “COVID-19 and U.S. International Pandemic Preparedness, Prevention and Response” in a virtual hearing at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/2BlWAV4

Mark Lewis, the Pentagon’s director of defense research and engineering for modernization, will discuss the department’s modernization priorities at noon in a video event hosted by the Hudson Institute. https://bit.ly/2CTpdJG

ICYMI

— The Hill: Senators move to boost state and local cybersecurity as part of annual defense bill

— The Hill: US ends defense exports to Hong Kong over China’s national security law

— The Hill: Pentagon announces July 4th flyovers across northeast

— The Hill: Opinion: Russia is testing Trump’s reactions

— CNN: From pandering to Putin to abusing allies and ignoring his own advisers, Trump’s phone calls alarm US officials

— Defense News: US could buy Turkey’s Russian-made S-400 under Senate proposal

— Associated Press: Worst virus fears are realized in poor or war-torn countries



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