OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Obama says GOP attacks on Benghazi are political 'sideshow'

The Obama administration initially claimed the Benghazi attack, ending with the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, was the result of an anti-U.S. protest gone wrong. 

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Only weeks later did the Obama administration acknowledge the strike was a planned, coordinated attack by Islamic extremist groups in the country.

Obama said the administration's talking points were shared with Congress months ago and lawmakers didn't raise major issues at the time.

“Suddenly three days ago, this gets spun up as if there's something new to the story,” he said Monday. “There's no there, there.”

Hagel ‘open to all options’ to stop sexual assault: The Pentagon is bristling at the notion that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has pre-emptively opposed a bill coming from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on sexual assault.

Pentagon press secretary George Little on Monday said that Hagel is “open to any and all options,” and did not rule out Gillibrand’s plan to remove the prosecution of major crimes like sexual assault from the military’s chain of command.

Little also penned a letter to the editor in The New York Times this past weekend after a report there said Gillibrand’s bill would likely face “fierce resistance” from Hagel.

Gillibrand is planning to release her bill on Thursday, according to aides, which would remove the decision to prosecute all major crimes (with a sentence of more than a year) from the chain of command.

It faces an uncertain future in Congress, but Gillibrand’s proposal has gained some new traction, winning the endorsement of Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Sunday.

Hagel’s proposal to strip commanders’ ability to overturn guilty verdicts in a post-trial review has won support from key Armed Services leaders in both the House and Senate.

Gillibrand and others, including Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), want to go further, which makes the chain-of-command debate poised to become a major fight on sexual assault during this year’s defense authorization markup.

Obama pressures Russia on Syria: President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron turned up the pressure on Russia on Monday, saying Moscow has an "obligation" to back U.S.-led efforts to end the Syrian civil war.

"As a leader on the world stage, Russia has an interest as well as an obligation to try to resolve [Syria] in a way that can lead to the kind of outcome that we'd all like to see over the long term," Obama said during a joint press conference Monday. 

The Obama administration has placed a priority on diplomatic means to end the violence, but efforts to tighten the noose around the Assad regime have been stymied by Damascus’s allies, Russia and China.

Cameron warned of the humanitarian crisis after three years of war, and urged the West to act quickly. "Syria's history is being written in the blood of her people and it is happening on our watch," Cameron said.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed to establish a bilateral peace council to set a path for a peaceful end to Bashar Assad’s rule and the handover of power to a coalition government. But the council must resolve many contentious issues.

Even with full support from Moscow, Obama said he could not guarantee a U.S.-brokered political solution in Syria would hold.

"We still have other countries like Iran, and we have non-state actors like Hezbollah that have been actively involved," he added, "On the other side, we've got organizations like [Jabhat] al-Nusra ... that have another agenda beyond just getting rid of Assad."

That "combustible mix" of regional interests and militant groups converging into Syria will pose serious hurdles to the administration's efforts to end the war, according to Obama. 

"It's going to be challenging, but it's worth the effort," he added.

McKeon speaking at ‘post-sequester summit’: House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) is speaking Tuesday at a “post sequester summit” hosted by the Potomac Officers Club.

McKeon is one of 10 speakers at Tuesday’s breakfast symposium held at the Ritz-Carlton in Tyson’s Corner. The list of speakers also includes Franken Kendal, Defense undersecretary for acquisitions, and Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale.

McKeon’s comments will be off the record, however, as the event is closed to press, according to a congressional aide.

The Potomac Officers Club is a board of trade for business leaders who support government contracting that meets about a dozen times per year.  


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

— UK wants 'flexibility' to arm Syrian rebels

— DOD keeps anti-missile weapon in Guam 

— Car bomb kills NATO troops in Southern Afghanistan 

— Hagel keeps options open on sexual assault policy

— White House pulls negotiators from U.N. disarmament talks


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