OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Gates puts White House on defense

The Topline: The White House on Tuesday looked to push back against the controversy created by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s memoir.

Gates created a stir in Washington Tuesday when excerpts of his book were released, which alleged that President Obama doubted his own war strategy.

White House press secretary Jay Carney faced a barrage of questions on the book Wednesday, arguing that Obama intentionally assembled a “team of rivals” with opposing views.

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Carney noted that Gates ultimately praised the president's decisions on Afghanistan policy in other excerpts from the book.

And in response to perhaps the most serious charge — that Obama ordered troops into battle without conviction — Carney said the president "believes thoroughly in the mission" and was "extremely conscious of the responsibility" involved in sending people to a war zone.

The president has "great faith in the troops that carry out the mission, and the mission itself," Carney said.

Former White House officials also rallied to the president’s defense against Gates, questioning his decision to write the book.

“It’s one thing as historians look back on an administration, but in the middle of it, when you’re pursuing a war at the same time, and one that is controversial with the American people and has been very difficult on our military, I think it’s just a disservice, to be very frank with you,” former White House chief of staff Bill Daley said Wednesday on CBS’s “This Morning.”

Other former administration officials took Gates’s side with his criticism that the White House’s advisers took “micromanagement and operational meddling to a new level.”

One former Defense official who served in the Obama administration said Gates's observations were "100 percent accurate."

The official said Obama’s former national security adviser Tom Donilon and his special assistant, Samantha Vinograd, "saw the Pentagon as the enemy."

According to the official, former Undersecretary for Policy Michèle Flournoy once sent Donilon a memo in 2012 telling him that she felt the White House was purposely shutting the Pentagon out of important meetings on Afghanistan.

"Donilon got mad because she dared to put her concerns in writing," the official said.

F-35, LCS safe in omnibus bill: No major cuts to the F-35 or littoral combat ship (LCS) are coming in the omnibus spending bill that appropriators are trying to finalize, the top Republican on the Defense subpanel said Wednesday.

Defense Appropriations subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) said that big changes weren’t coming to either the F-35 or the LCS, weapons programs that are frequent targets of Pentagon spending critics.

“We have a healthy respect for all the aforementioned items,” Frelinghuysen said. 

Frelinghuysen said that the Defense appropriations bill was already in legislative language form, but he said that lawmakers were still lobbying him for changes before the full omnibus bill is completed.

“Things are never closed. I have quite a lot of things given to me in the last hour by people who think things are always open,” he said coming off the House floor during a vote.

General retires after complaints about assault case: Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin announced his retirement on Wednesday after his handling of a military sexual assault case prompted lawmakers to call for his removal.

“After much consideration and discussion with my family, I am retiring from the Air Force. In the last 10 months as the Commander of Third Air Force and 17th Expeditionary Air Force, my judgment has been questioned publicly regarding my decisions as a general court martial convening authority. This is a distraction for the Air Force and for my role as a general court martial convening authority,” Franklin said in a statement.

In early 2013, Franklin, commander of 3rd Air Force, dismissed the guilty verdict in a sexual assault case against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, who was convicted of groping a 49-year-old physician’s assistant as she slept in a guest room in his house.

Lawmakers who have spearheaded reform of how the military handles sexual assault — including making it more difficult for commanders to overturn decisions — applauded Franklin’s decision in a slew of statements Wednesday.

“Lt. Gen. Franklin’s decision to resign is the right one,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in a statement.

“I am pleased that Lt. Gen. Franklin will no longer serve in his post — but take no joy in this outcome as it's a painful reminder for the victims of military sexual assault that the deck is stacked against justice when commanders hold all the cards,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

“Lt. Gen. Franklin’s decision to dismiss a guilty verdict in a sexual assault case last year was a step backward for military justice, and flew in the face of the progress being made to address these crimes,” said Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.).

5 dead in helicopter crashes: Two U.S. military helicopters went down in two separate and nearly back-to-back incidents Tuesday and Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, a Navy MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter made an emergency landing in the Atlantic off the Virginia coast. Four of the five crew members were rescued from the sea, but one later died of injuries. By Wednesday afternoon, rescuers were continuing to look for the fifth missing crew member.

The cause of the accident is under investigation. The helicopter, assigned to Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron Fourteen, was conducting routine training operations before going down off the coast near Fort Story, Va.

The night before, an Air Force helicopter crashed off the coast of England, killing all four service members onboard.

The aircraft, assigned to the 48th Fighter Wing, was on a low-level training mission. The helicopter, which was a Pave Hawk, is a slightly altered version of a Black Hawk helicopter, and is often used to assist in search and rescue missions during combat.

 

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