Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — McCarthy rebukes Jan. 6 panel

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks to the press during a conference held to discuss Republican opposition to the Department of Homeland Security’s Disinformation Governance Board on Wednesday, May 11, 2022.
The Hill, Anna Rose Layden

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has responded to a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, in which he questioned the panel’s legitimacy.

We’ll break down the letter. Plus, we’ll recap President Biden’s commencement speech at the U.S. Naval Academy.

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Jordan Williams. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Programming note: Defense & National Security will not publish on Monday, May 30, in observance of Memorial Day. Enjoy the holiday weekend!

McCarthy questions Jan. 6 panel’s legitimacy

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) responded to a subpoena from the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol in a letter from his lawyer on Friday that questioned the committee’s legitimacy and requested more information from the panel. 

“All valid and lawfully issued subpoenas must be respected and honored. Unfortunately, the words and actions of the Select Committee and its members have made it clear that it is not exercising a valid or lawful use of Congress’ subpoena power,” McCarthy lawyer Elliot S. Berke said in an 11-page letter. 

How we got here: The committee issued subpoenas to McCarthy and four other GOP lawmakers earlier this month — Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), Scott Perry (Pa.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), and Mo Brooks (Ala.) — in a highly unusual instance of a committee compelling sitting members of Congress to testify. The panel had previously requested voluntary interviews with the members. 

In announcing the subpoena, the committee said that McCarthy had information important to its investigation because he was in communication with former President Trump before, during and after the Jan. 6 attack. 

McCarthy said in press interviews on Jan. 6 and after that he had talked to Trump and asked him to speak to the public to stop the attack. 

McCarthy’s arguments: Much of the letter went through longtime GOP arguments that the committee is not acting with legitimate authority, in part because none of the sitting members were appointed by the minority leader. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rejected two of McCarthy’s initial picks for the committee, prompting McCarthy to pull his other three recommendations and refuse to make any more picks.  

The letter also argued that it is “difficult to fathom” how the committee is fulfilling any legislative purpose with its subpoena. 

Berke asked for the committee to provide a list of topics that it wants to discuss with McCarthy and copies of documents it wants to ask McCarthy about.  

He also asked several questions about the ranking member on the committee, questions apparently intended to poke holes in the committee’s legitimacy. 

Where to go now: The minority leader and other GOP members subpoenaed by the select committee have limited options in how to respond to the demands.  

If they choose not to comply, they can either challenge the panel in court as other potential witnesses have done or defy the subpoenas and risk House contempt proceedings and a criminal referral to the Justice Department. The tactics may succeed in prolonging the investigation in a midterm election year, but it’s far from certain the GOP House members would succeed in court. 

Federal courts have repeatedly sided with the select committee in legal challenges against its investigative demands, upholding its subpoenas and the panel’s authority to issue them. 

Read the story here. 

Biden rebukes Putin in Naval Academy address

President Biden on Friday urged this year’s graduating class of midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy to be stewards of strong American leadership abroad as the world faces major challenges including Russia’s war in Ukraine.   

‘An inflection point:’ “You are graduating at an inflection point, not only in American history but in world history,” Biden told the graduating class. in the commencement address at the Naval Academy graduation in Annapolis, Md. “The challenges we face, the choices we make are more consequential than ever. Things are changing so rapidly that the next 10 years will be the decisive decade of this century.”   

Taking aim at Putin: Biden accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “literally trying to wipe out the culture and identity of the Ukrainian people” by attacking schools, hospitals and other sites in the war that began more than three months ago.   

“A direct assault on the fundamental tenets of rules-based international order. That’s what you’re graduating into,” Biden said.   

How Biden used the speech: The president largely used the address to prepare the roughly 1,200 graduating midshipmen for the challenges ahead, repeating his belief that the world is in the midst of a “global struggle between autocracies and democracies.”   

The graduates, he said, will be “representatives and defenders of our democracy” on the world stage. 

“I cannot promise you the way will be straight or the sailing will be easy, but I can promise you that you all have the tools needed to navigate any waters you encounter,” Biden said as he closed the speech. “You are ready.” 

Read the story here.  

Kirby bids farewell to the Pentagon 

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby held his last press conference on Friday, during which he highlighted the role of the press when bidding farewell to the podium.  

Kirby is set to begin a new role in the White House after serving 18 months as Assistant to the Secretary for Public Affairs and Press Secretary.  

“Thank you for the way you put me through my paces, even today, last day,” Kirby said in the final moments of his last press conference in the position. “I got stretched, I got pushed, but that’s what makes you guys so important. That’s what makes this place so special.”  

Where is Kirby going? Last week, President Biden named Kirby the National Security Council coordinator for Strategic communications. He will report directly to national security adviser Jake Sullivan.  

In a statement, the White House said Kirby will “coordinate interagency efforts” for communications in his new position and will serve as a senior communications point person for the Biden administration. 

Invoking Ukraine: In his parting remarks, Kirby highlighted the importance of a free press, noting its coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  

Kirby said the role of the press is especially important as Ukraine fends off Russia’s invasion. He noted that Moscow has been “shutting down a free flow of information.”  

“All of you have been, will be or you have colleagues who are on the ground in Ukraine right now putting their own lives in danger, and some of them have been hurt would have been killed,” Kirby said.  

“I know that Memorial Day is obviously about memorialize memorializing the fallen,” he added. “I will also— promise you I’ll take some time this weekend to think about them as well.”  

Parting words from Austin: During a press conference on Monday, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin thanked Kirby for his time in the agency, saying he served as a “clear and eloquent voice” for the department.  

“He’s always understood how central a free and independent press is to our democracy,” Austin said.  

“So even when the countries were tough, even when the findings were uncomfortable, when John stood behind this podium, he always committed to truth, trust and transparency,” he added.   

ON TAP FOR TUESDAY

  • The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation will hos a discussion on “Why the Bipartisan Innovation Act is Crucial for U.S. National Security” at 10:30 a.m. 
  • The Atlantic Council will host a conversation with Secretary Christine Wormuth at 1:30 p.m. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you next week!

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