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Overnight Defense: Pompeo pressed on move to pull troops from Germany | Panel abruptly scraps confirmation hearing | Trump meets family of slain soldier


Happy Thursday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Ellen Mitchell, 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: Senators from both sides of the aisle on Thursday questioned Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHillicon Valley: House panel grills tech CEOs during much anticipated antitrust hearing | TikTok to make code public as it pushes back against ‘misinformation’ | House Intel panel expands access to foreign disinformation evidence Overnight Defense: US to pull 11,900 troops from Germany | Troop shuffle to cost ‘several billion’ dollars | Lawmakers pan drawdown plan | Trump says he hasn’t discussed alleged bounties with Putin Trump administration imposes new sanctions on Syria MORE over the decision to remove U.S. troops from Germany, criticizing the move as alienating allies and weakening the United States in the face of Russia and China.

The Pentagon on Wednesday announced it would move ahead on President TrumpDonald John TrumpGovernors’ approval ratings drop as COVID-19 cases mount Gohmert says he will take hydroxychloroquine as COVID-19 treatment Virginia governor, senators request CDC aid with coronavirus outbreak at immigrant detention facility MORE’s earlier call to pull about 12,000 U.S. troops from Germany, with more than half expected to return to the U.S. and the remaining deployed in Europe.

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee raised concerns with Pompeo over the decision.

An ‘insult to Germany’: Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGOP hunts for ‘Plan B’ as coronavirus talks hit wall Overnight Defense: US to pull 11,900 troops from Germany | Troop shuffle to cost ‘several billion’ dollars | Lawmakers pan drawdown plan | Trump says he hasn’t discussed alleged bounties with Putin Lawmakers torch Trump plan to pull 11,900 troops from Germany MORE (R-Utah) said he had spoken to individuals at the highest levels of the German government who he said found it an “insult to Germany” that the U.S. would remove troops.

Romney is one of the most vocal Republican critics of Trump and called the initial announcement of troop removal a “grave error” and a “slap in the face” to allies the U.S. needs to confront China and Russia.

Can the US still deter Russia?: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who is also a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, pressed the secretary on whether alienating Germany was taken into consideration and threatened the U.S.’s ability to deter Russia.

“I don’t understand, was the effect of diplomatically alienating Germany — who is the largest and wealthiest country in the EU, who has been a historic, strategic ally — was that also taken into consideration?” she said.

The secretary pushed back, saying Germany is no longer a front-line country and that the U.S. consulted with NATO over the decision to reposition troops.

GOP calls to keep troops in Europe: Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), while saying he supported the decision to pull troops from Germany, expressed concern about the 6,400 soldiers expected to return to the U.S.

“I think moving troops out of Germany is a good idea, if they stay in Europe,” he said, and called for troops to be deployed to Poland, Baltic states and Eastern Europe. 

 

POMPEO SAYS US WARNED RUSSIA: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that the State Department has warned Russian officials about all threats that Russia poses to Americans and U.S. interests in various parts of the world.

Pompeo was pressed during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing about reports of Russia paying bounties to Taliban fighters to kill American troops in Afghanistan.

The secretary of State did not comment on whether he specifically raised the bounty allegations, but told the panel that threats from Russia against Americans in the middle east and elsewhere were discussed.

“Yes, I can assure you that each time I have spoken to [Russian] Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov, I have raised all of the issues that put any Americans at risk,” Pompeo said in response to a question from the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.).

“We have raised this at my level and not only at my level,” Pompeo added.

Read more here.

 

PANEL ABRUPTLY SCRAPS HEARING FOR PENTAGON PICK: The confirmation hearing for President Trump’s controversial nominee to lead the Pentagon’s policy shop was canceled less than an hour before it was set to begin on Thursday.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said the hearing was canceled because “many” Democrats and Republicans “didn’t know enough about Anthony Tata to consider him for a very significant position at this time.”

“We didn’t get the required documentation in time; some documents, which we normally get before a hearing, didn’t arrive until yesterday,” Inhofe said in a statement released about 15 minutes before the hearing was scheduled to start. “As I told the president last night, we’re simply out of time with the August recess coming, so it wouldn’t serve any useful purpose to have a hearing at this point, and he agreed.”

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member of the committee, said in his own statement senators in both parties had “serious questions” about Tata and said Inhofe “did the right thing here.”

No withdrawal from Tata: A committee spokesperson told The Hill on Thursday afternoon the panel “has not been officially notified” about any withdrawal of Tata’s nomination “as of now.” The spokesperson did not respond to a follow-up question about any informal communications. 

Tata’s controversial past: Democrats have been calling for Tata, a retired Army brigadier general most known for his frequent guest appearances on Fox News, to withdraw from consideration as under secretary of Defense for policy since inflammatory and racist tweets were surfaced by CNN last month.

In 2018 tweets, for example, Tata called Obama a “terrorist leader” and said Islam is the “most oppressive violent religion I know of.” He also called Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) a “vicious race baiting racist” and said she and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “have always been the same violent extremists.”

Tata has since deleted many of the offensive tweets. After CNN’s reports and after several Armed Services Democrats came out in opposition to his nomination, he also penned a letter to Reed and Inhofe expressing regret at the tweets and calling them an “aberration in a four decade thread of faithful public service.”

The Pentagon’s position: Tata has also been serving a senior adviser to Defense Secretary Mark Esper while he awaits confirmation. Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman deferred to the Armed Services panel on future plans for Tata’s hearing, but said Tata would remain an adviser to Esper “in the meantime.”

“The general himself has stated that he does not believe or support the comments he made,” Hoffman said at a Pentagon briefing.

Dems push for ouster: Ten Democrats, including five on the committee, wrote to Tata calling on him to withdraw and resign as an adviser, saying that “multiple past statements cannot be dismissed simply as an aberration.” Tata could be confirmed by the GOP-led Senate without any Democratic support.

Republicans on the fence?: Still, questions have been raised about whether Tata could garner enough support among Republicans, particularly from those facing reelection who would have to defend their votes on the inflammatory nominee.

 

HOUSE TARGETS TRANSGENDER TROOP BAN: The House on Thursday passed an amendment aimed at overturning the Trump administration’s transgender military ban.

The measure, from Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and 28 Democratic co-sponsors, was approved by voice vote as part of a group of a few dozen amendments passed while the House considers a $1.3 trillion spending package that includes the fiscal year 2021 defense appropriations bill.

The amendment would block the use of funds to implement the Pentagon’s transgender service policy, which says transgender people can only serve in the military if they do so in their biological sex or get a waiver.

Background: The House approved the same amendment last year, but it did not survive negotiations with the Senate and White House to be signed into law in the final spending bill.

Since then, the military has granted just one waiver to allow a transgender person to serve openly. A report to Congress last month also said that as of February, the military had only considered two waivers total and that 19 people were medically disqualified from enlisting or commissioning as an officer because of the policy.

The Pentagon argues its policy is not a ban because of the exception for waivers, as well as a carve-out for people who were serving openly before the policy took effect last year to continue doing so. But opponents of the policy say the data show it effectively is a ban akin to the defunct “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that banned open service by gay, lesbian and bisexual troops.

Read more here

 

TRUMP MEETS WITH FAMILY OF SLAIN SOLDIER: Trump on Thursday met with the family of slain Ford Hood soldier Vanessa Guillén in the Oval Office.

Trump said that the federal government is conducting a “very powerful investigation” into Guillén’s killing and offered support for legislation her family supports to address sexual harassment in the U.S. military.

“We’re going to look into it very powerfully, and we already have started, as you know,” Trump told the family, saying the Department of Justice and military were investigating the matter. “We’ll get to the bottom of it. Maybe things can come out that will help other people in a situation like Vanessa.”

The Army specialist went missing from the Texas military base in late April. Her remains were found more than two months later, on June 30, buried 20 miles away from Ford Hood near a lake.

Background: Authorities suspect another soldier, Aaron Robinson, was involved in Guillén’s death. Robinson killed himself on July 1 after he was confronted by police.

His girlfriend, Cecily Ann Aguilar, has been charged with conspiracy to tamper with evidence by assisting in discarding Guillén’s body. Aguilar pleaded not guilty earlier this month.

Guillén’s family says that she had been harassed by another soldier at the military base but didn’t report it out of fear of retaliation, claims that the military is currently investigating.

Army orders a investigation: On Thursday, the U.S. Army named an independent review panel consisting of five experts who will investigate whether personnel at Ford Hood enabled a climate of sexual harassment and discrimination to take hold on the base.

Details of the meeting: Trump met with Guillén’s mother, father and two sisters and Natalie Khawam, the attorney representing them.

Gloria Guillén, Vanessa’s mother, said through a translator that her daughter’s story is the “story of the whole nation.” She grew tearful at times during the meeting.

Read more here

 

ICYMI

– The Hill: Wall Street Journal rips Trump for pulling troops from Germany

– The Hill: Biden, under Trump attack, casts himself as firm on China

– Military Times: The military is seeing a higher COVID-19 infection rate in young people. Here’s why.



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