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Overnight Defense: Trump hits back over special counsel | US bombs pro-Assad forces | GOP chairman unveils proposed Pentagon buying reforms

Overnight Defense: Trump hits back over special counsel | US bombs pro-Assad forces | GOP chairman unveils proposed Pentagon buying reforms
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THE TOPLINE: President Trump showed Thursday he is prepared to fight hard against allegations he interfered with a federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. 

He vehemently denied during a news conference at the White House that he asked FBI Director James Comey to drop the bureau's investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a central player in the Russia inquiry. 

"No, no," Trump said when asked whether he told Comey to back off Flynn, then demanded the reporter move on to the "next question." 

Trump denounced the appointment of a special counsel to lead the probe, repeatedly calling it an unprecedented "witch hunt" that "hurts the country." 

The Hill's Jordan Fabian has the story here.

 

SENATORS TOLD OF BROADENING RUSSIA PROBE: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein briefing senators at the Capitol Thursday. The Hill's Katie Bo Williams and Jordain Carney have the story:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein dropped two bombshells during a hotly-anticipated appearance before the Senate on Thursday, less than 24 hours after he announced the appointment of a special prosecutor in the FBI's investigation into Russian election meddling.

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According to lawmakers, Rosenstein confirmed that the bureau's investigation into Russian interference in the election is no longer strictly a counterintelligence investigation -- a kind of probe that does not normally result in charges -- but also a criminal one.

He also said he was aware President Trump intended to fire Comey prior to penning a memo that the White House later used as its justification for the dismissal.

Lawmakers emerged from the closed-door meeting painting a sober picture of the briefing. Sen. Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsAfter Florida school shooting, vows for change but no clear path forward Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Sunday shows preview: Russian charges, Florida shooting dominate coverage MORE (D-Del.) described the mood in the room as serious and thoughtful.

Click here to read more.

 

FLYNN IS NOT COOPERATING IN RUSSIA PROBE: Flynn is not cooperating with the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian election interference, Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrOvernight Finance: Senate rejects Trump immigration plan | U.S. Bancorp to pay 0M in fines for lacking money laundering protections | Cryptocurrency market overcharges users | Prudential fights to loosen oversight Senators introduce bill to help businesses with trade complaints Our intelligence chiefs just want to tell the truth about national security MORE (R-N.C.) said Thursday.

Burr initially said Flynn was not complying with a subpoena issued by the committee before quickly walking back his remarks to reporters.

While Flynn "is not cooperating" so far, Burr said, he hasn't gotten a "definitive" answer from Flynn's lawyers.

"I may have been premature," Burr said. "There may be a day or two left."

Flynn's attorneys "have not yet indicated their intentions" on the subpoena, Burr said later in a statement released by his office, but he added, "I welcome their willingness to cooperate."

Read the rest here

 

IN COMEY MEMO NEWS: The House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday requested the FBI turn over Comey's memo's documenting conversations with Trump, joining a number of other panels seeking the memos.

The Hill's Katie Bo Williams has the story:

The panel requested additional documents from the Justice Department and the FBI related to the bureau's ongoing investigation into Russian election interference, including "relevant documents related to the dismissal of Mr. Comey as FBI Director or memorializing conversations between the President and Mr. Comey," committee leaders said in a statement Thursday.

Comey's memos -- which reportedly detail a request from Trump to "let go" of the bureau's investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn -- are in hot demand by multiple committees on the Hill.

 

US FORCES STRIKE PRO-REGIME MILITIA IN SYRIA: U.S. forces bombed a militia aligned with Syrian president Bashar Assad in southern Syria, a Pentagon official confirmed Thursday.

The strike took place in At Tanf near Syria's border with Jordan and Iraq, the official said. The United States has been using the area to train its partnered local forces. The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) said the strike happened Thursday when pro-regime forces advanced and posed a threat to coalition-backed forces.

"This was despite #Russian attempts to dissuade pro-regime movement towards At Tanf, #Coalition aircraft show of force, & warning shots," Operation Inherent Resolve said in a tweet.

In a four-sentence statement, the coalition added that the pro-regime forces were "well inside" an "established" zone, but did not specify which pro-regime militia was struck or the damage.

The Hill's Rebecca Kheel has the rest here.

 

HOUSE GOP UNVEILS MAJOR CHANGES TO PENTAGON BUYS: House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) on Thursday unveiled his latest acquisition reform bill aimed at simplifying how the Pentagon buys goods and services and streamlining its acquisitions bureaucracy.

The draft legislation -- Thornberry's third such package as chairman -- sidesteps past years' goals for faster weapons development. The new bill instead focuses on bringing an Amazon-like online marketplace to the Department of Defense (DOD), cutting down on lengthy and costly program audits and freeing up data for officials to make decisions faster and cheaper, committee aides told reporters Wednesday.

The 80-page draft bill will be open for a month of feedback, and portions will eventually be folded into the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act when it is introduced later this year.

Read more on the five biggest changes proposed in the document here.

 

DEFENSE CHIEF APPOINTS THREE SENIOR OFFICIALS: Defense Secretary James Mattis is filling out his team at the Pentagon, announcing appointments for three more senior positions Thursday.

In a statement, the Pentagon announced Mattis appointed Stephen Kitay to deputy assistant secretary of Defense for space policy, Sergio de la Peña to deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere affairs and Vayl Oxford to director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Kitay, a retired Air Force officer, was most recently a staffer on the House Armed Services Committee, and also served as the national security space expert on the multibillion-dollar space budget, and its policies and programs.

De la Peña, a retired Army colonel, was a Trump campaign surrogate and on the administration's Pentagon transition team, while Oxford has for five years been a national security executive policy advisor at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a Department of Energy-managed research laboratory.

Read more here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW:

A House Armed Services subcommittee will hear from Air Force Space Command head Gen. Raymond, and other government officials on fiscal 2018 priorities and posture of the National Security Space Enterprise at 8 a.m. at Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. http://bit.ly/2q1FQ9T

 

ICYMI:

-- The Hill: Second Senate committee invites Comey to publicly testify

-- The Hill: McCain, Feinstein tell Turkey to hold guards accountable after DC brawl

-- The Hill: Flynn friend: 'Trump insisted' he serve in administration

-- The Hill: US spies heard Russian intelligence agent vowing to target Clinton: report

-- The Hill: Trump cancels visit to ancient site after Israel bars helicopter landing: report

-- The Hill: Chinese state outlet blames US for 'WannaCry' ransomware

-- Defense News: Two months after being named, Shanahan's nomination is nowhere to be seen

 

Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Kheel, rkheel@thehill.com, and Ellen Mitchell, emitchell@thehill.com

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