Overnight Defense: Trump aide's comment mocking McCain sparks outrage | Haspel gets another 'no' vote | Pompeo floats North Korea aid for denuclearization

Overnight Defense: Trump aide's comment mocking McCain sparks outrage | Haspel gets another 'no' vote | Pompeo floats North Korea aid for denuclearization
© Camille Fine


Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. We're Rebecca Kheel and Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond.


THE TOPLINE: Washington was awash in outrage Friday after a White House aide mocked "dying" war hero and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainObama, Bush veterans dismiss Trump-Putin interpreter subpoena Controversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws Trump vows to hold second meeting with Putin MORE (R-Ariz.) over his opposition to President TrumpDonald John TrumpWSJ: Trump ignored advice to confront Putin over indictments Trump hotel charging Sean Spicer ,000 as book party venue Bernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin MORE's pick to the lead the CIA.

The Hill on Thursday first reported that special assistant Kelly Sadler had dismissed McCain's opposition to Gina Haspel's nomination by saying that "he's dying anyway."

McCain, who was captured during the Vietnam War and tortured, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer last year and has been home in Arizona battling the disease.

Earlier this week, he urged his Senate colleagues to reject Haspel over her record on torture.

White House dodges: The White House was grilled over the comment during Friday's briefing, but press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to address the issue.

"I'm not going to validate a leak, one way or another, out of an internal staff meeting," Sanders said.


Sadler's remarks prompted condemnation from McCain's family, his fellow Vietnam veterans and colleagues on the Armed Services Committee and Congress at-large.

From his family: Meghan McCain, the senator's daughter, hit back at Sadler during her co-hosting job on ABC's "The View." She suggested that Sadler should be fired.

"I don't understand what kind of environment you're working in when that would be acceptable and then you could come to work the next day and still have a job," Meghan McCain said during the show. "And that's all I have to say about it."

The senator's wife, Cindy McCain, also tweeted a reminder to Sadler that McCain has a family.

From Vietnam vets: Vietnam Veterans of America issued a statement Friday calling for Sadler to be fired. The group also took issue with comments from retired Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, who Thursday on Fox Business News revived a false claim that McCain was a "song bird" when he was a prisoner of war.

"As an organization, we have had our disagreements with Senator McCain, but he will always be one of our brothers," Vietnam Veterans of America President John Rowan said in a statement. "What Sadler and McInerney have said will not be forgotten, as it reveals an incredible lack of respect for the service and sacrifice of every veteran, and their relationships with the White House and Fox News should be severed immediately."

From his colleagues: Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedSenate Dems press for info on any deals from Trump-Putin meeting Senate Dems tell Trump: Don't meet with Putin one-on-one Schumer: Trump should cancel meeting with Putin MORE (D-R.I.), who leads the Armed Services Committee alongside McCain as the ranking member, tweeted that it's "unacceptable for Trump Admin to cruelly mock veterans like @SenJohnMcCain. They may disagree w/ him on issues, but he gave so much for our nation. He & his family deserve respect."

Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamQuestions mount over Trump-Putin discussions The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia Overnight Defense: Trump inviting Putin to DC | Senate to vote Monday on VA pick | Graham open to US-Russia military coordination in Syria MORE, a close friend of McCain's who also serves on the committee, told CNN that "nobody is laughing in the Senate."

Another committee member, Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstAndrew Wheeler must reverse damage to American heartland Ernst: Intelligence agencies should question Trump’s interpreter, not Congress Senate adds members to pro-NATO group MORE (R-Iowa), tweeted that "our nation should be grateful for the exemplary service and sacrifice of @SenJohnMcCain, and treat this war hero and his family with the civility and respect they deserve."

Members of the House also gave McCain their support.

"It's a sad day in this country when White House officials are mocking a man who, while serving his country, was tortured as a prisoner of war. He's more than earned the right to speak out on these matters," Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) said in a statement, demanding a public apology from the White House.

And former Vice President Biden also chimed in.

"People have wondered when decency would hit rock bottom with this administration," Biden said in a statement. "It happened yesterday."


HASPEL COUNT: Outside of the outrage over Sadler's comment, there's also the question of whether McCain's position on Haspel will sway any of his colleagues.

On Friday, Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineGraham would consider US-Russia military coordination in Syria Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick Election Countdown: Latest on the 2018 Senate money race | Red-state Dems feeling the heat over Kavanaugh | Dem doubts about Warren | Ocasio-Cortez to visit Capitol Hill | Why Puerto Ricans in Florida could swing Senate race MORE (D-Va.) became the latest Democrat to oppose Haspel, citing her involvement in the so-called enhanced interrogation program and McCain's stance.

"I believe her role in the Agency's use of torture and efforts to destroy evidence of it was neither minor nor incidental. In particular, I was especially disturbed that she personally wrote a cable ordering the destruction of videotape evidence of the Agency's use of torture," Kaine said in a statement.

Kaine also said he echoed "my colleague John McCain's disappointment in Gina Haspel's failure to condemn it as immoral during her hearing."

Where that leaves Haspel: With McCain absent and Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia GOP leader blocks resolution backing intelligence community on Russia Rand Paul blocks Sanders's Russia resolution, calls it 'crazy hatred' against Trump MORE (R-Ky.) vowing to oppose Haspel, she needs at least one Democratic vote to be confirmed.

But if other GOP senators defect -- and several have said they're on the fence -- or McCain returns to Washington, she will need to pick up more Democratic support.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPollster: Kavanaugh will get Dem votes Overnight Health Care: Trump officials explore importing prescription drugs | Key ObamaCare, drug pricing regs under review | GOP looks to blunt attacks on rising premiums | Merck to lower some drug prices Dems pressure GOP to take legal action supporting pre-existing conditions MORE (D-W.Va.) is the only Democrat who has said he will support Haspel so far.


BILLIONAIRE MILITARY CONTRACTOR TO LEAD INTEL BOARD: President Trump on Friday announced that Stephen Feinberg, a New York billionaire who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, will chair a White House executive board that reviews the effectiveness and legality of foreign intelligence.

Feinberg in the early months of Trump's presidency was rumored to be under consideration to lead some kind of broad-based review of the intelligence community, which Trump was then blaming for the departure of his first national security advisor, Michael Flynn.

But that role never materialized. Now, he will head the so-called President's Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB) -- a committee made up of non-government employees that gets access to a wide swath of intelligence information and acts as an independent monitor on the 17 agencies that make up the intelligence community.

The Hill's Katie Bo Williams has more here.


MORE FALLOUT FROM IRAN DEAL DECISION: A top nuclear expert has resigned from the State Department following President Trump's decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.

Richard Johnson, acting assistant coordinator in the agency's Office of Iran Nuclear Implementation, stepped down this week, according to Foreign Policy.

Johnson had been involved in negotiations with European countries working to save the deal.

Why he left: Officials told Foreign Policy that the 38-year-old Johnson's departure is the latest symptom of what they have dubbed a "brain drain" in the agency under the Trump administration. About 60 percent of top-ranking career diplomats left the department under Trump.

"I am proud to have played a small part in this work, particularly the extraordinary achievement of implementing the [deal] with Iran, which has clearly been successful in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," Johnson said in an email to colleagues about his departure.

German leader rips Trump for decision: German Chancellor Angela Merkel is criticizing Trump's decision, saying it "undermines trust in the international order."

"I believe it is wrong to unilaterally tear up the agreement, which was agreed on and which was unanimously approved by the U.N. Security Council," Merkel said.

Merkel, along with French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May, has criticized Trump for pulling the U.S. out of the agreement and vowing to reinstate economic sanctions on Iran.


POMPEO FLOATS NORTH KOREA AID FOR DENUCLEARIZATION: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that the United States would be willing to offer economic help to North Korea if Pyongyang takes concrete steps toward denuclearization.

"If North Korea takes bold action to quickly denuclearize, the United States is prepared to work with North Korea to achieve prosperity on the par with our South Korean friends," Pompeo said during a joint press conference with his South Korean counterpart.

Pompeo spoke in Washington a day after returning from Pyongyang, where he said he had "good" and "substantive" conversations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and secured the release of three American prisoners being held in North Korea.

Why it matters: The sanctions noose tightened around North Korea over the last year, and some say that's why Kim wants to meet with Trump.

Past attempts at striking a deal with North Korea have seen the international community lift sanctions and provide economic aid only for Pyongyang to renege on its commitments.

The Trump administration has insisted it won't fall into that trap. Pompeo reiterated Friday that there must be "complete" and "verifiable" denuclearization. He also said a massive inspection and monitoring regime would be required to ensure Pyongyang's compliance.



The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host a discussion on Russia's ground forces at 10 a.m. at in Washington. https://bit.ly/2KTfrXr

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will host a panel on how to negotiate with North Korea at 10 a.m. in Washington. http://ceip.org/2rwyKNc

The Atlantic Council will host a discussion on the ramifications of President Trump's Iran decision at noon in Washington. https://bit.ly/2IyvV8V



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