OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Capitol Hill on edge after ricin attack

On Wednesday, the FBI said another letter that was sent to President Obama had been intercepted and tested positive for ricin.

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The ricin letters came one day after Monday’s terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon, where three people were killed and more than 170 injured. The FBI said Wednesday the two were not connected.

Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) also said their offices had received suspicious letters on Wednesday. Flake said in a statement that his office was given an all clear, and Levin’s office said that tests had yet to come back.

The FBI has taken the lead on the investigations involving the letters sent to Wicker and Obama, which they believe came from the same sender.

Mail delivery to Senate office buildings has been canceled for the rest of the week as a precaution as the investigation at the mail processing facility continues.

Hagel, senators talk sequester, Syria: At Wednesday’s Armed Services hearing, senators pressed Hagel and Dempsey on how the Pentagon is dealing with the sequester and the situation in Syria in a double hearing.

In the first-half of the hearing, Republicans pressed Hagel over why the Pentagon didn’t take into account the sequester in its 2014 budget, and urged him to detail how $52 billion would be cut from the Defense budget.

On Syria, Hagel said Defense Department leaders are already drafting a slate of battle plans for President Obama, should the White House decide to use military force to end the two-year civil war in Syria.

While the details of those plans remain secret, they do include plans to deal with Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles and to prevent the conflict from spreading to neighboring countries, he told lawmakers.

The Pentagon also announced on Wednesday that Hagel will begin a week-long goodwill trip next week, making stops in Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Those efforts suggest Obama is preparing to ramp up U.S. military pressure in Syria in an attempt to bring the ongoing civil war in the country to an end, Levin told reporters.

"Something is happening, something is going on," Levin said after Wednesday's hearing.

The pending decision from the White House could include the creation of a no-fly zone along the Turkish or Jordanian border or additional deployments of Patriot missile systems in those countries, he said.

But Dempsey warned any U.S. military action in Syria would quickly deteriorate into a long, drawn out conflict in the region.

"The introduction of military power [in Syria] right now could certainly have the possibility of making the situation worse," Dempsey said.

Senate panel says US overspending on bases abroad: The Senate Armed Services panel released a report Wednesday that found contributions from foreign nations were not keeping up with U.S. costs to maintain U.S. bases abroad.

The committee reviewed the military’s $10 billion tab in South Korea, Japan and Germany — where nearly 70 percent of overseas base spending takes place. It found that U.S. contributions to maintain forces in these countries were quickly outpacing the foreign contribution, as well as  instances where there was little congressional or Pentagon oversight over construction projects.

The report said U.S. costs to maintain forces in South Korea increased by $500 million from 2008 to 2012, while South Korea’s contributions went up by only $42 million.

Speier re-introduces sexual assault legislation: Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) is trying again to move legislation that would remove the investigation and prosecution of military sexual assault cases outside the chain of command.

Speier’s bill, introduced Wednesday, is similar to legislation she proposed in the last Congress to change the way the military prosecutes sexual assault.

Advocates of sexual assault victims are hopeful there’s new momentum in Congress this year to make major changes to the military’s judicial code, after an Air Force sexual assault case that was dismissed drew widespread outrage.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has proposed removing the ability of military commanders to toss out verdicts in a post-trial review in response to the case.

But Speier’s chain-of-command proposal faces opposition, including from two senior House Armed Services members who are vocal advocates for military sexual assault reform: Reps. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) and Mike Turner (R-Ohio).

Both have said that removing prosecution from the military’s chain of command goes a step too far.

The military’s sexual assault policies will be one of the most contentious issues during the committee’s mark-up of the Defense authorization bill. 


In Case You Missed It:

— Levin: Obama will boost military pressure on Syria

— GOP senators want detailed sequester cuts

— Turner slams Obama on missile defense

— Levin wants one-year sequester fix

— Wicker: Grateful for security


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