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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

Happy Wednesday 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: The Pentagon has put some meat on the bones of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden hits Trump’s ‘law and order’ message: He’s trying to ‘scare the devil’ out of people Pelosi bashes Barr after testimony: ‘He was like a blob’ and ‘henchman’ for Trump Schumer: Trump should want COVID-19 deal to help GOP election chances MORE’s plan to pull thousands of troops from Germany.

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Senate GOP coronavirus bill includes .4B for Pentagon | US, Australia focus on China in key meeting China at center of US-Australia meeting on shared challenges Press: Trump declares war – on America! MORE announced Wednesday morning that roughly 11,900 U.S. troops will be leaving Germany, dropping the number of troops there from about 36,000 to 24,000.

Roughly 5,600 of the troops will be repositioned elsewhere in Europe — including Belgium, Italy, Poland and “opportunities to put forces into the Baltics” — while some 6,400 would come back to the United States.

Of the troops heading back stateside, many will begin conducting rotational deployments back into Europe.

“These changes will unquestionably achieve the core principles of enhancing U.S. and NATO deterrence of Russia, strengthening NATO, reassuring allies and improving U.S. strategic flexibility,” Esper said.

How much will it cost: The exact cost remains to be seen, but Esper estimated it will be in the single-digit billions.

“It’ll take several billion dollars, I’d say single digits, but that’ll be spread out over time, obviously,” he told reporters at the Pentagon.

In answering the cost question, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten, who was speaking alongside Esper, suggested that more details than just costs are still up in the air.

“What we have right now is really a concept, a concept that we’ve shared with our allies, shared with the Congress, and we’ve shared inside the department fairly widely,” Hyten said. “We now have to turn it into plans.”

Trump undercuts Esper: Esper framed Wednesday’s announcement as a strategic realignment of forces that had been in the works for months and struggled to answer questions on how that squares with Trump’s previous comments that he wanted out of Germany to punish Berlin for not spending more on defense.

“We’re following, in many ways, the boundary east, where our newest allies are. So into the Black Sea region, we talked about additional forces into Poland, and I think there are opportunities to put forces into the Baltics,” Esper said. “That’s why it’s a strategic laydown that enhances deterrence, strengthens the allies, reassures them.”

But less than an hour after Esper was done talking, Trump was back to tearing into Germany for their defense spending.

“We’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills,” Trump told reporters while departing the White House. “It’s very simple. They’re delinquent.”

NATO reaction: When Trump first said in June he would slash the number of troops in Germany, that was news to NATO.

Esper has since filled allies in on the plans, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that Esper’s announcement “underlines the continued commitment by the United States to NATO and to European security.”

“Peace and security in Europe is important for the security and prosperity of North America, and as we face a more unpredictable world, we are stronger and safer when we stand together,” Stoltenberg said in a statement. “The U.S. has consulted closely with all NATO Allies ahead of today’s announcement.”

Lawmaker reaction: U.S. lawmakers were far less rosy than Stoltenberg.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySpike in gold puts dollar’s reserve status in question: Goldman Sachs The Memo: Biden seeks to peel older voters from Trump On the Money: GOP lowers unemployment plus-up in new COVID-19 bill | Collins to vote against Fed nominee Shelton | Worries grow over job growth MORE (R-Utah) called the drawdown a “grave error” and a “slap in the face at a friend and ally.”

Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseRepublican senators revolt over coronavirus proposal DOJ indicts Chinese hackers accused of targeting COVID-19 research Civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis dies MORE (R-Neb.) said Trump shows a “lack of strategic understanding.”

“Once more, now with feeling: U.S. troops aren’t stationed around the world as traffic cops or welfare caseworkers – they’re restraining the expansionary aims of the world’s worst regimes, chiefly China and Russia,” Sasse said in a statement. “We should be leading our allies against China and Russia, not abandoning them. Withdrawal is weak.”

Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryFormer White House physician Ronny Jackson wins Texas runoff Trump makes late push for two Texas Republicans 4 Texas GOP congressional primary runoffs to watch MORE (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said parts of the plan are “troubling.”

“The administration’s plans to redistribute U.S. forces across Europe are complex and will have long-lasting consequences,” Thornberry said in a statement. “While some of the proposed moves clearly have merit, other aspects – such as an arbitrary limits to the number of troops stationed in certain countries — remain troubling.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Senate GOP coronavirus bill includes .4B for Pentagon | US, Australia focus on China in key meeting Senate GOP coronavirus bill includes .4B for Pentagon Overnight Defense: House passes defense bill that Trump threatened to veto | Esper voices concerns about officers wearing military garb MORE (D-Wash.) said he is “very concerned” about “an arbitrary cap” on the number of U.S. troops stationed in Germany.

“By the secretary’s own admission, this plan was not drafted in consultation with U.S. allies or with the military services, but instead all parties – including Congress – were notified after decisions had already been made,” Smith said in a statement. “Not only does the plan fail to consider major logistical issues, questions about deterrence and implementation of the National Defense Strategy, and concerns about implications for U.S. efforts in Africa and elsewhere, but also it will almost certainly result in significant costs to the department.”

Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Guardsman to testify Lafayette Square clearing was ‘unprovoked escalation’ | Dems push for controversial Pentagon nominee to withdraw | Watchdog says Pentagon not considering climate change risks to contractors Democrats urge controversial Pentagon policy nominee to withdraw GAO: Pentagon not considering climate change risks to contractors MORE (D-R.I.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the drawdown a “self-inflicted wound.”

“This is the type of move [former Defense] Secretary [James] Mattis was able to stand up to in the past, but this Administration seems to be unraveling under the strain of the pandemic,” Reed said in a statement. Today we heard just a thin outline of an irrational and ill-conceived proposal. Now Congress has an obligation to dig into this issue on a bipartisan basis and the Administration needs to be more forthcoming about its rationale and cost estimates.”

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezVOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage Bottom line Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose ‘bailouts’ of states in new ads MORE (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on Republicans to “to stand up to the president and put an end to this abdication of his oath to protect the United States from enemies foreign and domestic.”

“Champagne must be flowing freely this evening at the Kremlin,” Menendez said in a statement. “The Trump administration’s decision to withdraw forces from Germany is not only an affront to one of our closest allies, but will ultimately weaken U.S. efforts to counter Kremlin aggression in Europe.”

At least one key lawmaker is one board. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeDoug Collins questions Loeffler’s trustworthiness in first TV ad Overnight Defense: Guardsman to testify Lafayette Square clearing was ‘unprovoked escalation’ | Dems push for controversial Pentagon nominee to withdraw | Watchdog says Pentagon not considering climate change risks to contractors Democrats urge controversial Pentagon policy nominee to withdraw MORE (R-Okla.) reiterated his support for the plan after Esper’s announcement.

“As I said last week after I was briefed, any plan for realigning our posture in Europe must maintain a strong forward presence, sustain force projection, and take care our military families,” Inhofe tweeted Wednesday. “The concept @EsperDOD outlined today adheres to these principles.”

TRUMP HASN’T RAISED BOUNTIES WITH PUTIN: Trump has confirmed that he has never raised the issue of Russia’s alleged bounties against U.S. troops in his conversations with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinRussia aiming to approve COVID-19 vaccine within weeks: report Putin says Russian Navy closer to getting hypersonic weapons Trump talks coronavirus, arms control in phone call with Putin MORE.

In an interview with Axios on Tuesday, Trump said the issue wasn’t discussed in a call with Putin last week, nor has the pair ever discussed it.

“That was a phone call to discuss other things, and frankly that’s an issue that many people said was fake news,” Trump said of last week’s call.

“I have never discussed it with him,” Trump added.

Background: Reports first surfaced late last month that the U.S. intelligence community concluded months ago that a unit in Russia’s military intelligence agency offered payments to Taliban-linked militants to incentivize the killing of U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan.

A firestorm erupted on Capitol Hill over the report, with lawmakers demanding more information both on the intelligence and on what Trump knew.

Administration officials have played up an apparent split between intelligence agencies on their level of confidence in the intelligence to argue the allegation is uncorroborated and therefore didn’t merit being verbally briefed to Trump.

Reports have said the information was included in written intelligence given to Trump known as the President’s Daily Brief.

Trump dismisses arms, too: Even before the revelations about the bounty intelligence, U.S. military officials have accused Russia of providing the Taliban with weapons and other support since as early as 2017.

But Trump dismissed that, too, in the Axios interview.

Read a quote from retired Gen. John Nicholson, who commanded U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan from 2016 to 2018, Trump said Nicholson “didn’t have great success.”

Trump also likened Russia’s support to the Taliban to the covert U.S. operation that supported the mujahideen, the predecessors to the Taliban, when they were fighting the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

“Well, we supplied weapons when they were fighting Russia, too,” Trump said. “I’m just saying, we did that too.”


Pentagon chief information officer Dana Deasy will hold a press briefing at 8:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/3jSkTLL

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Senate GOP coronavirus bill includes .4B for Pentagon | US, Australia focus on China in key meeting Republicans raise concerns TikTok could be used by Chinese government interfere in elections China at center of US-Australia meeting on shared challenges MORE will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at 8:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/3hU6k8N

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Anthony Tata to be under secretary of Defense for policy at 9:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/3geVh9B

A House Armed Services Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on recommendations from the Cyberspace Solarium Commission at 1 p.m. https://bit.ly/3f8zzmh

A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on the COVID-19 response in Africa at 1 p.m. https://bit.ly/33dAoYV

Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman; Air Force Maj. Gen. Lee Payne, Defense Health Agency assistant director for combat support; and Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, medical advisor to the Department of Defense Coronavirus Task Force, will brief the media about COVID-19 testing at 2:15 p.m. https://bit.ly/3jSkTLL


— The Hill: Trump administration imposes new sanctions on Syria

— The Hill: State Department appoints Arctic chief amid tensions with China, Russia

— The Hill: Senate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag

— Roll Call: Trump team’s case for new nuke cites risks in current arsenal

— Washington Post: Trump’s nominee for senior Pentagon job in trouble heading into hearing

— Seattle Times: Washington state officials slam Navy’s changes to military testing program that would harm more orcas

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