Overnight Defense: Kelly defends Trump on calls to families of fallen troops | Pentagon launches probe into deadly Niger attack | McCain floats subpoena

Overnight Defense: Kelly defends Trump on calls to families of fallen troops | Pentagon launches probe into deadly Niger attack | McCain floats subpoena
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THE TOPLINE: White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE on Thursday delivered a stirring, personal defense of President TrumpDonald John TrumpNASA exec leading moon mission quits weeks after appointment The Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' MORE's call to the widow of a fallen U.S. soldier, pushing back on mounting criticism of the president's handling of the conversation.

Kelly said he was "stunned" by Democratic Rep. Frederica WilsonFrederica Patricia WilsonOvernight Defense: Iran worries dominate foreign policy talk | Pentagon reportedly to send WH plans for 10K troops in Mideast | Democrats warn Trump may push through Saudi arms sale | Lawmakers blast new Pentagon policy on sharing info House Dem: Trump could start war with Iran to thwart impeachment Lawmakers celebrate 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote MORE's (Fla.) negative description of Trump's call to the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed during an ambush in Niger.

"It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me. I would have thought that was sacred," Kelly said during a surprise appearance in the White House press briefing room.

After learning of what he called Wilson's "selfish behavior," Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general whose son was killed in battle in Afghanistan, said he was so taken aback that he walked for an hour and a half in Arlington National Cemetery to compose himself.

Speaking slowly and solemnly, he described Thursday what happened when he learned his son had been killed.

"He was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed," Kelly remembered being told by his casualty officer, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, who is now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"He knew what he was getting into by joining that one percent," he added. "He knew what the possibilities were because we're at war."

The controversy ignited late Tuesday when Wilson revealed Trump told Myeshia Johnson her husband "knew what he was getting into."

The Florida lawmaker said she was in a car when Trump called and listened on speakerphone. She was invited to be present because she had a longstanding relationship with the family, and mentored the soldier through a program she founded. Wilson said Trump was "so insensitive" and caused Johnson emotional distress.

Her description was backed up by the soldier's mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, who said she felt disrespected.

Kelly said the message he received as the father of a fallen soldier was what Trump was trying to convey to Johnson's widow, Myeshia.

"He expressed his condolences in the best way that he could," he said.

Wilson's office declined to comment on Kelly's remarks.

"The congresswoman will not be making any further comment on the issue because the focus should be on helping a grieving widow and the family heal, not on her or Donald Trump," a spokesperson for the congresswoman said in a statement.

The Hill's Jordan Fabian and Jonathan Easley have more from the briefing here.

 

More on the controversy:

Dem lawmaker won't respond to Kelly

CNN's Borger praises Kelly: 'This is a true leader standing at that podium'

Ex-Clinton aide on Kelly: 'Don't be distracted by the uniform'

Fox's Baier: Trump 'opened the door' to fallen soldiers controversy

Obama defense chief: Trump's treatment of Gold Star families 'sickens' me

  

MILITARY LAUNCHES PROBE INTO NIGER ATTACK: The U.S. military has launched a formal investigation into an ambush in Niger that left four Army Green Berets dead and two injured, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisShanahan orders new restrictions on sharing of military operations with Congress: report Pentagon reporters left in dark as Iran tensions escalate Trump officials slow-walk president's order to cut off Central American aid: report MORE confirmed Thursday.

"The loss of our troops is under investigation," Mattis told reporters. "We investigate anytime we have our troops killed, whether it be in a training accident or combat."

"These terrorists are conducting war on innocent people of all religions, they are conducting war on innocent people who have no way to defend themselves," he continued.

"In this specific case, contact was considered unlikely, but there's a reason we have U.S. Army soldiers there and not the Peace Corps, because we carry guns," he said.

Read more here

 

MCCAIN: GETTING ANSWERS ON NIGER MAY REQUIRE SUBPOENA: Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain on Pelosi-Trump feud: 'Put this crap aside' and 'work together for America' Meghan McCain says Ben Carson should be developing brain cancer treatment, not working at HUD Graham urges Trump not to abandon infrastructure talks with Democrats MORE (R-Ariz.) said Thursday it might require a subpoena to get more information about a deadly ambush in Niger.

"It may require a subpoena," McCain said when he was asked what might need to be done to get more information about the attack that left four U.S. soldiers dead, according to CNN.

McCain added that it's not necessary to wait for the Defense Department to finish its investigation.

"That's not how the system works. We're coequal branches of government," McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said. "We should be informed at all times."

The Hill's Rebecca Savransky has the rest here.

 

PENTAGON INSISTS IT'S BEING TRANSPARENT: Pentagon officials insisted on Thursday that they were being open with Congress while briefing lawmakers on the attack in Niger that left four U.S. special forces dead and two others injured.

Pentagon chief spokeswoman Dana White said the Defense Department had a military general brief members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees in a closed session on the Oct. 4 ambush. She did not say who spoke to the committees.

"We have kept them up to date. Of course we will work with Sen. McCain and his staff to ensure they get everything that they need," White told reporters at the Pentagon. "It is very important to [Defense Secretary James Mattis] and he is personally dedicated to that."

More on that here. 

 

IN OTHER NEWS ... FRUSTRATED SENATORS DEMAND CYBER STRATEGY FROM TRUMP: Lawmakers are growing impatient with the Trump administration on the issue of cyber war, saying the United States lacks a clear policy for responding to attacks.

Frustrations over the lack of a comprehensive cyber policy boiled over during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday. The hearing ended with Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) issuing a veiled threat to subpoena the White House national security official responsible for coordinating cybersecurity policy across the federal government.

"We have authorities that I don't particularly want to use," McCain said. "But unless we are allowed to carry out our responsibilities to our voters who sent us here, we're going to have to demand better cooperation and teamwork than we are getting now."

McCain and other lawmakers have been clamoring since the Obama administration for a comprehensive policy for the U.S. government to deter and respond to cyberattacks.

The Hill's Morgan Chalfant has more here.

 

TRUMP CHANGES TO IRAN DEAL FACE CRITICISM FROM BOTH SIDES: The Senate has a difficult path to walk if it is going to pass changes to the Iran nuclear deal demanded by President Trump to stave off a U.S. withdrawal from the agreement.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerJeff Daniels blasts 'cowardice' of Senate Republicans against Trump Corker: 'I just don't' see path to challenge Trump in 2020 Ex-GOP Sen. Corker: Trump primary would be 'good thing for our country' MORE (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonThe Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Republicans spend more than million at Trump properties Hillicon Valley: Assange hit with 17 more charges | Facebook removes record 2.2B fake profiles | Senate passes anti-robocall bill | Senators offer bill to help companies remove Huawei equipment MORE (R-Ark.) have unveiled plans to enact Trump's proposals, but their legislation would need 60 votes -- including support from at least eight Democrats -- to pass the chamber.

Democrats are vowing not to vote for anything that amounts to the United States unilaterally rewriting the international agreement. Meanwhile, some Republican Iran hawks are indicating the changes do not go far enough and that they would rather scrap the deal altogether.

For now, senators in both parties are noncommittal, saying they are awaiting the bill text before making a final judgment.

The Hill's Rebecca Keel has the rest here.

 

NORTH KOREA WARNES OF NUCLEAR STRIKE: North Korea is warning that the United States will face an "unimaginable" nuclear strike for conducting ongoing joint naval drills with the South Korean military on the Korean peninsula.

"The U.S. is running amok by introducing under our nose the targets we have set as primary ones," the state-controlled news agency KCNA warned Thursday, Newsweek reported. "The U.S. should expect that it would face unimaginable strike at an unimaginable time."

KCNA also reportedly blamed the U.S. for "creating tension on the eve of war" by participating in civilian evacuation drills in South Korea over the weekend.

Read more here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) will give a keynote speech on the way forward on Iran policy at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the National Press Club in Washington. http://bit.ly/2gDbit2 

 

ICYMI:

-- The Hill: Khizr Khan accuses Trump of 'disrespect' to service members in new interview

-- The Hill: Putin warns against backing North Korea into a corner

-- The Hill: Report: Nine families of fallen soldiers say they haven't heard from Trump

-- The Hill: US carrier makes show of strength off Korean Peninsula

-- The Hill: White House blames protocol for delay in Trump's Niger response

-- The Hill Opinion: We are finally beating ISIS, but media won't give Trump credit, by Joe Concha

-- The Hill Opinion: Judges blocking Trump's travel ban again is just like a bad movie sequel, by Jonathan Turley

-- Defense News: B-21 cost info to stay secret despite new Air Force leadership

 

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

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