Overnight Defense: US opens Jerusalem embassy as violence erupts | Haspel committee vote set for Wednesday | Trump blasts White House leakers as 'traitors'

Overnight Defense: US opens Jerusalem embassy as violence erupts | Haspel committee vote set for Wednesday | Trump blasts White House leakers as 'traitors'
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Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond.

 

THE TOPLINE: The split screen out of Israel on Monday was striking:

In Jerusalem, U.S. and Israeli officials celebrated the opening of the new U.S. Embassy there. Forty-miles away, at least 55 Palestinian protestors in Gaza were killed by Israeli soldiers.

The formal move of the embassy, happening on the 70th anniversary of Israel's independence, fulfilled President TrumpDonald John TrumpAl Gore: Trump has had 'less of an impact on environment so far than I feared' Trump claims tapes of him saying the 'n-word' don't exist Trump wanted to require staffers to get permission before writing books: report MORE's decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The U.S. delegation to the embassy opening was led by the president's eldest daughter and, Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpWhite House staff offered discounts at Trump's NJ golf club: report Omarosa telling friends she has tapes of Ivanka, Kushner too: report The Hill's Morning Report — Trump heads to New York to shore-up GOP districts MORE, and his son-in-law, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerCanada may secure America's nuclear nonproliferation bacon Omarosa telling friends she has tapes of Ivanka, Kushner too: report Saudis show separation of oil and state in spat with Canada MORE

"While presidents before him have backed down from their pledge to move the American Embassy once they were in office, this president delivered. Because when President Trump makes a promise, he keeps it," Kushner said at the ceremony from a stage flanked by American and Israeli flags.

Why it's controversial: Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moving the U.S. Embassy there broke with years of policy that said the city's status should be negotiated in peace talks between Israel and Palestine, with the U.S. acting as a neutral arbiter.

The Palestinians cut off talks with the White House for a peace deal after Trump's December announcement.

Trump did not attend the Jerusalem event in person. But in a video message, he said the U.S. "remains fully committed to facilitating a lasting peace" between Israel and Palestine.

"We extend a hand in friendship to Israel, the Palestinians and to all of their neighbors," Trump said. "May there be peace."

A peace deal, however, seemed even further out of reach in the wake of the embassy opening, which angered Palestinians who want east Jerusalem as a capital for a future state.

What the protests were about: Palestinians launched a series of protests March 30 called the "Great March of Return" against the blockade of Gaza. Dozens had already been killed prior to Monday.

On Monday, a mass of protestors attempted to cross the border fence separating Gaza and Israel, and Israeli soldiers responded with rifle fire.

Gaza health officials say at least 55 people were killed and more than 2,700 were injured, though Israeli defense officials say the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry is inflating the casualty numbers. 

Israeli officials also say that some in the crowd were planting or throwing explosives.

White House response: The White House said Hamas is to blame for the dozens of deaths in Gaza that marred the opening of a new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

"The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas. Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response," White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah said during Monday's briefing.

Shah did not answer when asked if the U.S. was calling on Israel to use restraint in its response to protesters, as the French government had. He instead reiterated that Hamas was to blame for the violence.

"We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that Hamas is the one that, frankly, bears responsibility for the entire situation right now," Shah said.

 

More on the embassy opening:

-- US beefing up security at embassies over fears of unrest: report

-- Netanyahu at US Embassy opening: 'We are in Jerusalem and we are here to stay'

-- Schumer applauds Trump on moving US Embassy to Jerusalem

-- Kushner at embassy in Jerusalem: 'When President Trump makes a promise, he keeps it'

-- Trump offers hope for peace in recorded remarks at US Embassy opening in Jerusalem 

 

HASPEL VOTE COMING UP: The Senate Intelligence Committee will vote Wednesday on Gina Haspel's nomination to lead the CIA.

A committee aide announced the plans on Monday.

The vote will take place in closed session prior to a scheduled classified hearing on the intelligence community's 2017 assessment that Russia attempted to interfere in the U.S. election.

Haspel appears poised to pass out of committee with a favorable recommendation, teeing up a full Senate vote likely next week. 

Where the votes are: Over the weekend, Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyTrump’s big wall isn’t going anywhere — and the polls show why The Hill's Morning Report — Trump heads to New York to shore-up GOP districts Senate Judiciary announces Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing MORE (D-Ind.) announced he will vote for Haspel, increasing her chances of being confirmed.

Donnelly said in a statement Saturday he believes that Haspel "has learned from the past, and that the CIA under her leadership can help our country confront serious international threats and challenges."

Donnelly joins Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump’s big wall isn’t going anywhere — and the polls show why Senate Judiciary announces Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing Anti-abortion group launches ads against Manchin over Planned Parenthood MORE (D-W.Va.), who previously announced his support for Haspel. Both senators are up for re-election in states Trump won in 2016.

One big question mark, however, remains the Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDustbin 2020: The best Dems who surely won’t get the nomination WikiLeaks says Senate panel requested Assange testimony for Russia probe Democrats find dead man’s signature on petition gathered by GOP volunteers MORE (Va.), who has remained conspicuously close-lipped on his position on the controversial nominee.

 

MORE FALLOUT FROM MCCAIN COMMENT: The White House on Monday again refused to apologize for staffer Kelly Sadler's derisive comment about Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Defense: Trump signs 7B defense policy bill into law | Rips McCain hours after signing bill named after him | Green Beret killed in Afghanistan blast Tapper thanks McCain for his service ‘since President Trump would not do it’ Trump rips McCain hours after signing bill named after him MORE, saying the matter is "being addressed internally."

White House spokesman Raj Shah confirmed that Sadler called McCain's daughter, Meghan, to apologize for her remarks but indicated a public apology will not be forthcoming

"I understand the focus on this issue, but it is going to be dealt with and has been dealt with internally," Shah told reporters.

The Hill first reported last week that Sadler dismissed McCain's opposition to President Trump's CIA director nominee by saying "it doesn't matter, he's dying anyway."

The comments created a multiday firestorm, which the White House is struggling to dig out of in part because it has refused to offer a public apology -- as members of McCain's family and lawmakers in both parties have requested. 

Focus on leaks: At the White House, the focus has been on the fact that the comment was leaked instead of the fact that it was said.

Shah condemned the leak of the remark, but declined to discuss his thoughts on the comments themselves.

"If you aren't able, in internal meetings, to speak your mind or convey thoughts or say anything that you feel without feeling like your colleagues will betray you, that creates a very difficult work environment," he said.

Trump, meanwhile, tweeted that leakers are "traitors" trying to make the White House look bad.

"The so-called leaks coming out of the White House are a massive over exaggeration put out by the Fake News Media in order to make us look as bad as possible," Trump tweeted. "With that being said, leakers are traitors and cowards, and we will find out who they are!"

 

QUESTIONS OVER NIGER: Seven months after four U.S. soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger, the Pentagon last week released results from its investigation into incident.

But with just eight pages of executive summary publicly available, questions remain.

The Hill's Ellen Mitchell took a look over the weekend at the questions lawmakers and others still have, including why the Pentagon for months did not reveal the true mission of the Army special operations team. 

In releasing findings from the investigation, the Pentagon confirmed for the first time U.S. team involved in the Oct. 4 firefight initially embarked on a kill-or-capture operation, not a low-risk advising mission as previously portrayed.

Cover up or mix up?: In a summary of its findings on the deadly operation, U.S. Africa Command said the team involved in the firefight filed paperwork seeking approval from higher command that mischaracterized the true nature of their task.

As described by the lead investigator, the commanders who filed the papers weren't deliberating lying. Rather, Army Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier said, "it was a lack of attention to detail" that led to a mix-up.

But former defense officials said there remains a lack of clarity about what happened.

"What little information they provided [in the summary] certainly would give one reason to believe that there's an accountability failure here," said retired Col. Don Christensen, a former Air Force chief prosecutor. "When they fail to provide information it appears like they're covering up and protecting the people at the top."

Alice Hunt Friend, a former special adviser and principal director for African Affairs at the Pentagon who is now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said after reading the eight-page summary that she also still had questions on why the team was under-equipped. 

"I read it and sort of still feel like I don't have all the pieces that make it make sense," she said.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Army Secretary Mark Esper and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley will testify before the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee at 10 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 192. https://bit.ly/2KpsPBz

A Senate Foreign Relations Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on U.S. leadership in the Asia-Pacific with testimony from Defense and State officials at 10 a.m. at Dirksen 419. https://bit.ly/2KX170e 

 

ICYMI 

-- The Hill: Lawmakers stunned by Trump push to help Chinese company

-- The Hill: Trump roils the globe with Iran deal withdrawal

-- The Hill: US intercepts Russian jets near Alaska

-- Reuters: Fiery cleric Sadr taps anger over Iran to lead Iraq poll

-- Associated Press: Germany eyes goal of 1.5 percent defense spending by 2025

-- The Washington Post: Father of soldier killed in Niger says officers cited in a military investigation are not at fault for his son's death