OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: McKeon to retire

The Topline: House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) will announce his retirement on Thursday, two sources close to McKeon told The Hill.

McKeon is set to make a 9 a.m. announcement in the Armed Services Committee room on Thursday. His office and the committee aren’t officially confirming yet that the lawmaker will announce his retirement then.

McKeon’s retirement could spark a three-way race for the Armed Services gavel in 2015 — as well as a competitive race for his congressional seat.

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Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) is seen as the front-runner to lead the Armed Services panel next year, and defense sources say he is McKeon’s preferred choice.

“Thornberry does all the right things. He does what he needs to for the party; he’s well thought of on the committee; and Buck wants him to be his heir apparent,” said one defense lobbyist. “There's no reason to pass him over.”

Two other senior committee members, Reps. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) and Michael Turner (R-Ohio), are also expected to consider seeking the chairmanship.

McKeon’s retirement is not unexpected — rumors have swirled for months that he would not seek another term.

Bob Cochran, wholeft his office in late 2012, and two local Republicans — 2012 congressional candidate and former California state Sen. Tony Strickland and California state Sen. Steve Knight (R) — had already said they would run if he retires.

Even if McKeon had won another term in 2015, he would have been term-limited as chairman of the Armed Services panel.

His departure is the latest in a string of turnover among the four defense committee chairmen. No chairman will have more than two years' experience at the start of 2015, when both McKeon and Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) will retire from Congress. 

Senate report says Benghazi preventable: The 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, were preventable, a Senate Intelligence Committee report concluded.

The report said the State Department failed to increase security there despite warnings from the intelligence community that the situation was deteriorating and facilities were at risk.

It also faulted the administration and the intelligence community for not quickly dispelling the notion that the attack grew out of peaceful protests.

The report, released Wednesday, only mentions former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once. But Republicans immediately were calling for her to return to Capitol Hill to testify on the attack.

“I would hope that the Foreign Relations Committee will take that report and they will look at the unanswered questions,” the top Republican on the Intelligence panel, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), told The Hill.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) a potential 2016 rival of Clinton’s, said her “failure to provide adequate security for our deployed personnel in Benghazi” warranted further investigation.

Air Force probe goes from drugs to cheating: The Air Force drug probe widened from 10 airmen to 37 after one of those being investigated for illegal drug possession was found to have been either cheating on a monthly proficiency test for missile forces or knew of the cheating and did not stop it. 

"This is absolutely unacceptable behavior, and it is completely contrary to our core values in the Air Force," Deborah Lee James, Air Force secretary, told Pentagon reporters Wednesday.

There are now 11 airmen being investigated for recreational drug possession across six Air Force bases, and 34 airmen being investigated for cheating or being aware of the cheating on the test, which is to test ability and knowledge. There is some overlap between the two probes, officials said. 

The 34 airmen involved in the cheating probe have all been decertified, and suspended from their jobs. All intercontinental missile forces are being retested. 

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he was "deeply troubled" by the allegations, and has directed James to make the health of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile force a top priority. 

Navy's No. 2 resigns: In other military scandal news, the Navy's second-ranking civilian resigned Wednesday amid a criminal investigation involving a top-secret Navy project.

Robert Martinage, the acting undersecretary of the Navy, was pressured by Navy officials to resign after it was discovered he was having an affair with a subordinate during the investigation. 

Martinage was being investigated for his role approving the purchase of homemade firearm silencers that cost the Navy $1.6 million but were only $8,000 to manufacture.

 

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— Lieberman slams Obama on terrorism

 

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