Overnight Defense: Tillerson out in Trump shakeup | Trump reportedly considering firing VA chief | Trump floats creating 'space force' | Mattis finds some Taliban open to talks

Overnight Defense: Tillerson out in Trump shakeup | Trump reportedly considering firing VA chief | Trump floats creating 'space force' | Mattis finds some Taliban open to talks
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THE TOPLINE: Tuesday brought a major shakeup with President Trump firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The Hill's Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger have the story on what many believe could be the first round of high-profile changes within the administration:

White House officials were not sorry to see Tillerson go, viewing him as an ineffective leader who was rarely on the same page as Trump.

In a sign of the bitterness between the White House and Tillerson's circle, officials joked about fighting for the right to fire one of Tillerson's top spokesmen, Steven Goldstein, who had issued a statement that differed from the White House account of the secretary's exit.

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Tillerson did not thank the president in his farewell speech and barely mentioned him, underscoring the bad blood.

In his own remarks, Trump said he and Tillerson were never on the same "wavelength" while heaping praise on CIA Director Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Trump identifies first soldier remains from North Korea | New cyber strategy lets US go on offense | Army chief downplays talk of 'Fort Trump' Pompeo backed continued US support in Yemen war over objections from staff: report Pompeo’s staff cracks down on ‘correct use of commas’ at State Dept MORE, whom he nominated as the next secretary of State.

Trump signaled that more changes could be on the way.

"I'm really at a point where we're getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want," he said.

Read more here and here.

 

Here are more stories from Tuesday's administration shakeup:

-- Timeline: Tillerson's rocky relationship with Trump. President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE's removal of Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonPompeo working to rebuild ties with US diplomats: report NYT says it was unfair on Haley curtain story Rubio defends Haley over curtains story: Example of media pushing bias MORE as secretary of State ends an often-rocky tenure for the nation's top diplomat, who might be remembered best for reportedly referring to his boss as a "moron."

-- Tillerson doesn't thank Trump in post-firing speech. Tillerson praised State Department officials and Defense Department staff for their work during his tenure, while also thanking members of the military and the American people. But Tillerson did not mention Trump by name, only referring once to the president.

-- McCain: Trump's CIA pick was involved in 'one of the darkest chapters in American history'. Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainArizona race becomes Senate GOP’s ‘firewall’ Trump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands Another recession could hit US in 2019, says credit union association chief MORE (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday condemned President Trump's decision to nominate Gina Haspel to become the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), saying she was involved in "one of darkest chapters in American history" and calling on her to explain her stance on torture.

--Senate panel to hold Pompeo nomination hearing next month. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPoll: More voters oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination than support it Ford opens door to testifying next week Police arrest nearly two dozen Kavanaugh protesters MORE (R-Tenn.) said on Tuesday that his panel is planning to hold a hearing next month for CIA Director Mike Pompeo's nomination to lead the State Department.

 --Snowden rips Trump's CIA pick over torture program. Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden blasted the Trump administration on Tuesday for the selection of Gina Haspel to lead the CIA over Haspel's former management of a "black site" prison.

 

IS VA CHIEF NEXT?: President Trump is considering replacing Veterans Affairs chief David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinVeterans group sues to block advisers known as ‘Mar-a-Lago Crowd’ from influencing VA Mar-a-Lago insiders provided input on VA policy, personnel decisions: report Ahead of speech, Kansas City newspaper urges Trump to listen to veterans MORE with Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryOvernight Energy: House panel approves park funding, offshore drilling bills | Green group putting M into races | Perry applauds Russia boosting oil production Perry welcomes efforts by Russia, OPEC to boost oil production The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Hurricane Florence a new test for Trump team MORE, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Two sources close to the White House told The New York Times that Trump is mulling firing Shulkin, who has been under scrutiny over ethics concerns, including his use of a personal security detail to run errands.

Trump has not formally offered Perry the job, and it's unclear if he would accept it, The Times reported. Perry served in the Air Force prior to his career in politics.

Shulkin has been under intense scrutiny in recent weeks following an internal report that found he spent most of a taxpayer-funded trip to Europe sightseeing, had the government cover the cost of his wife's airfare and improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets.

He has also gone on record to say he's rooting out "subversion" in his own department, where he claims other staffers are attempting to undermine him.

Read the rest here.

 

TRUMP FLOATS IDEA OF CREATING A 'SPACE FORCE': President Trump on Tuesday said his new national security strategy recognizes space as a war-fighting domain and may pave the way for the creation of a "space force."

"We have the Air Force, we'll have the Space Force," Trump said during a speech to military personnel in San Diego, Calif., after surveying border wall prototypes during his trip.

"You know I was saying it the other day – because we're doing a tremendous amount of work in space – I said, 'Maybe we need a new force, we'll call it the Space Force.' And I was not really serious, and then I said what a great idea, maybe we'll have to do that. That could happen," he said.

"From the very beginning many of our astronauts have been soldiers and sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines, and our service members will be vital to ensuring America continues to lead the way in to the stars."

Trump added that the U.S. is "way, way behind" on advances in space, "but we're catching up fast."

Read the rest here

 

MATTIS: SOME TALIBAN INTERESTED IN TALKS TO END AFGHAN WAR: The United States has seen signs that some elements of the Taliban are interested in talking about ending the 16-year war in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Trump identifies first soldier remains from North Korea | New cyber strategy lets US go on offense | Army chief downplays talk of 'Fort Trump' Pompeo backed continued US support in Yemen war over objections from staff: report Stand with veterans instead of predatory for-profit colleges MORE said Tuesday.

"There is interest that we've picked up from the Taliban side even going before the Kabul conference," Mattis said, referring to an international conference last month in which Afghanistan's president offered the Taliban talks without preconditions.

"We've had some groups of Taliban, small groups, who have either started to come over or expressed an interest in talking," he added later.

Mattis was speaking to reporters before landing in Kabul for an unannounced visit there during an international trip.

Read more from the Hill's Rebecca Kheel.

 

DEMS WORRY ABOUT LACK OF AMBASSADORS AS SYRIA WAR RAGES: Senate Democrats on Tuesday questioned the Trump administration's failure to appoint ambassadors to numerous countries in the Middle East amid concern over escalating violence in Syria.

"In terms of diplomacy ... isn't the lack of ambassadors in the area, the lack of sufficient diplomatic capacity in this State Department, an obstacle to really effectively using diplomacy?" Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked U.S. Central Command head Gen. Joseph Votel during a hearing.

The question came as Votel, speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, addressed concerns over the ongoing conflict in Syria, where President Bashar Assad's forces, backed by Russia and Iran, have killed nearly 1,200 people in the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta since Feb. 18.

The three countries say they are targeting "terrorist" groups attacking the capital city of Damascus.

Votel said the best way to hold the Russians accountable for their actions in the region is through political and diplomatic channels, but said that so far "it does not appear" that the country is responding to such efforts.

Read the rest here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW:

Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, head of Air Force Materiel Command, will speak on current acquisition challenges and opportunities at an Air Force Association breakfast at 8 a.m. in Arlington, Va. http://conta.cc/2If7WZB

Rep. Seth MoultonSeth Wilbur Moulton11 Dems float anti-Pelosi leadership plan: reports To cure Congress, elect more former military members Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless MORE (D-Mass.) will speak on present and future dangers ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin's reelection at an event at 9 a.m. at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. http://bit.ly/2Fs58dG

Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Mattis dismisses talk he may be leaving | Polish president floats 'Fort Trump' | Dem bill would ban low-yield nukes Dems introduce bill to ban low-yield nukes Dems seek ways to block Trump support for Saudi-led coalition in Yemen MORE (D-Wash.), will speak on the future of base realignment and closure at 9 a.m. at the Cato Institute in Washington. http://bit.ly/2tvRQr3

The House Appropriations defense subcommittee will hear from Air Force Secretary Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein on the fiscal 2019 Air Force budget at 10 a.m. on the House side of the Capitol Building, room 140. http://bit.ly/2oXZVjE

A Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee will hold a hearing on Somalia's current security and stability status at 10 a.m. in Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 419. http://bit.ly/2IfaZ41

The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on space warfighting readiness policies, authorities and capabilities at 10 a.m. in Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. http://bit.ly/2Fv0Cau

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hear from outside experts on modernizing export controls at 10 a.m. in Rayburn 2172. http://bit.ly/2Hk3oji

A House Armed Services subcommittee will hear from Air Force officials on the service's fiscal 2019 budget request for sea power and projection forces staff at 2 p.m. in Rayburn 2212. http://bit.ly/2FBtGk1

A Senate Armed Services subpanel will hear from Energy Department and National Nuclear Security Administration officials on atomic energy defense activities at 2:30 p.m.in Russell 232-A. http://bit.ly/2IceHeN

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Director Steve Walker will speak at a House Armed Services subcommittee on the fiscal 2019 budget request for Department of Defense science and technology programs at 3:30 p.m. in Rayburn 2118. http://bit.ly/2Fx1mM7

 

ICYMI:

-- The Hill: Top officials: U.S. must shift to more aggressive cyber approach

-- The Hill: Trump to UK prime minister: Russia must answer for chemical attack

-- The Hill: Graham after 'unnerving' visit to Middle East: 'Iran is winning'

-- The Hill: Opinion: Firing Rex Tillerson is welcome change for our national security

-- The Hill: Opinion: The unlikely North Korea summit: Trump just might pull it off

-- Defense News: US Air Force orders freeze on public outreach