Overnight Defense

OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Dem: Clinton willing to appear before Benghazi panel

THE TOPLINE: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is willing to appear before the House Select Committee examining the 2012 Benghazi attacks, the panel’s top Democrat said Tuesday.

“She said … I’ll do it, period,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.) said after the committee’s heated third hearing.

Cummings said that he spoke to Clinton at the request of panel Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and that she “did not hesitate for one second.”

{mosads}Cummings said Clinton, the nation’s top diplomat at the time of the attacks, told him last year that she “wanted to come in December” to testify but could also come in January.

“The fact is that she was very clear,” he added.

Gowdy first floated the possibility of Clinton testifying late last year, creating the potential for a dramatic confrontation with the former secretary of State over a security failure that some Republicans believe should bar her from the presidency.

Clinton would be the front-runner for the 2016 Democratic nomination is she runs the possibility of her appearing to testify has shadowed the panel’s work.

Gowdy said he and Cummings had initially agreed last year that Clinton should be brought before the panel.

But Gowdy claims that after that discussion, Cummings unexpectedly changed his mind.

“If I were to conclude this investigation having not talked to the secretary of State at the time it would be an incomplete investigation,” Gowdy said.

Cummings disputed that he changed his mind about having Clinton appear.

“That’s not true. I don’t know how he could say that because we’ve never been against it. He asked me to check with her. I did that she said she was willing to come so it was a non-issue,” he said.

“If the committee wants her to come, she’s willing to come,” Cummings added.

The development came after a tense, two-hour panel hearing where Democrats and Republicans clashed over how the investigation is being handled.

 

SENATE DEMS PUT IRAN TALKS ON THE CLOCK: Ten Senate Democrats warned the White House in a letter Tuesday that they will support legislation imposing new sanctions on Iran if a framework to roll back the country’s nuclear program isn’t reached within two months.

The move came after Senate Democrats faced pressure from the White House to hold off on an immediate sanctions vote. The administration warned it could blow up negotiations and empower hardliners in Iran who want to scuttle a deal.

Democrats said they would withhold support for the measure if Republicans bring it for a floor vote, allowing two months for talks.

“After March 24, we will only vote for this legislation on the Senate floor if Iran fails to reach agreement on a political framework that addresses all parameters of a comprehensive agreement,” said the letter, led by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who is the co-author of Iran sanctions legislation.

The letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Chris Coons (Del.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.).

The sanctions bill, which Menendez crafted with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), would impose new restrictions on Iran’s economy if negotiators fail to reach a nuclear deal by June 30, the self-imposed deadline for the talks to conclude.

While the Democrats pledged not to vote for the bill on the Senate floor until March 24, the Senate Banking Committee will vote Thursday on the measure. Some of Democrats are expected to vote to advance the bill.

An aide to Menendez said he still plans to co-sponsor and vote for the bill this Thursday.

 

CHARGES FOR BERGDAHL? Reports Tuesday claimed that the Army will charge Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a former Taliban prisoner of war, with desertion for leaving his post in Afghanistan.

Senior Defense officials told NBC on Tuesday that Bergdahl could be referred within a week. Retired Army Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer informed Fox News on Monday night of the impending charges.

But the Pentagon is flatly denying the reports.

“The reporting from Fox News and NBC on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is patently false,” said Army Chief of Public Affairs Maj. Gen. Ronald F. Lewis.

If found guilty of desertion, Bergdahl could face prison time, a discharge or demotion from the Army, and have to pay back as much as $300,000 in back pay and bonuses. He is currently on active duty.

Bergdahl was held for five years after allegedly abandoning his post in 2009. The administration secured his release in May, after swapping him for five Guantanamo Bay detainees who had been senior Taliban commanders. 

The swap was done in secrecy, angering members of Congress whom the Government Accountability Office later said, the administration was mandated by law to notify.

Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said “no decision has been made” with respect to the case.

 

GOP VETERANS PAC LAUNCHED. Rep. Ryan Zinke (Mont.), a former Navy SEAL Team Six commander, has started a political action committee in an effort to get more fellow GOP veterans elected to Congress.

The goal of SEAL PAC “will be to work across the country to elect more veterans and like-minded leaders — to strengthen America, protect the Constitution and ensure for our country the prosperity that our generation has known,” Zinke said in a statement.

“It wasn’t too long ago, back in the 1970’s, that military veterans made up more than three-fourths of the membership of Congress,” Zinke wrote. “Sadly, the number of veterans in Congress has declined to less than 20 percent in both chambers.”

By electing more Republicans with a service record, “think of how better informed we can make our debates on defense policy, military procurement, and veteran’s benefits,” he added.

Zinke is one of several freshmen lawmakers from both parties with a military background assigned to the House Armed Services Committee.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

— Former Intel chairman joins DC think tank

— Time for a new Church Committee? Ex-staffers think so

— Carson brings Muslim voice to Intel panel

— Forty-five senators ask McConnell to pass ‘clean’ Homeland funding bill

— Homeland security is back in the limelight

 

Please send tips and comments to Kristina Wong, kwong@thehill.com, and Martin Matishak, mmatishak@thehill.com.

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Tags Ben Cardin Benghazi Bob Casey Bowe Bergdahl Charles Schumer Chris Coons Debbie Stabenow Hillary Clinton Hillary Rodham Clinton Iran sanctions Joe Donnelly Joe Manchin Mark Kirk Richard Blumenthal Robert Menendez Trey Gowdy
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