Overnight Defense: Pompeo grilled by Dems at nomination hearing | Faces tight panel vote | Mattis insists no decision yet on Syria | Dems seek answers on National Guard border deployment

Overnight Defense: Pompeo grilled by Dems at nomination hearing | Faces tight panel vote | Mattis insists no decision yet on Syria | Dems seek answers on National Guard border deployment

THE TOPLINE: CIA Director Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Latest on Korea talks | Trump says summit results 'very exciting!' | Congress to get Space Force plan in February | Trump asked CIA about silent bombs Pompeo: US ready to 'immediately' resume talks with North Korea READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV MORE on Thursday faced a grilling from Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggesting he faces uncertain prospects to win a panel vote to become the nation's top diplomat.

Pompeo declined to answer repeated questions from Democrats related to the ongoing Russia investigations and was challenged at several points to break with President Trump, as lawmakers voiced concerns that he would be too deferential as secretary of State.

 

Where he stands on...

North Korea: Pompeo said that he is not advocating for regime change in North Korea.

"I have never advocated for regime change," Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the hearing. "I am not advocating for regime change."

Pompeo made waves last year when he made comments that were widely interpreted as supporting regime change in North Korea.

ADVERTISEMENT

"It would be a great thing to denuclearize the peninsula, to get those weapons off of that, but the thing that is most dangerous about it is the character who holds the control over them today," Pompeo said at the Aspen Security Forum.

Iran deal: Pompeo said he shares Trump's views on "fixing" the Iran nuclear deal or withdrawing by May 12.

The Trump administration is negotiating with European allies for a follow-on deal that addresses three issues Trump sees with the Iran deal: several provisions sunset, inspectors can't demand to see some military sites and it does not address other activities of interest by Iran, such as its ballistic missile program and support of terrorists. 

Pompeo was first pressed by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) about his views on whether the United States should withdraw if Europeans do not agree to a follow-on deal. Pompeo responded by repeating the administration's plans.

"The president has made very clear what the secretary of State's mission is, and I expect no change to that," Pompeo said.

 

Cybersecurity at State: Pompeo would not say what his plans would be for the top cyber position at the State Department, though he said he would put "a great deal of resources" toward cybersecurity efforts if confirmed.

I have had the [organization] chart shown to me. I have seen the holes," Pompeo said Thursday. "Beyond that, I haven't given a great deal of consideration to people filling particular positions." 

"I can only say that, every element of government has a piece of its cyber duty. It's one of the challenges that it's so deeply divided, that we don't have a central place to do cyber work," Pompeo said.

 

Russia: Pompeo also told senators on Thursday that the "historic conflict" between the U.S. and Russia is due to Moscow's "bad behavior" -- contradicting Trump's assertion that the special counsel's probe is to blame.

Pompeo was asked directly whether he agreed with a recent tweet from Trump that "much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation, headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for Obama."

 

Will he get the vote? Pompeo's performance seemed to please Republicans on the panel, but with the defection of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) home receiving treatment for cancer, he will need support from Democrats to win confirmation.

But even getting a majority vote from the panel -- the first hurdle for the former Kansas congressman -- could prove difficult.

And no Democrats on the panel have so far offered their support.

 

MATTIS TAMPS DOWN TRUMP'S SYRIA BLUSTER: Defense Secretary James Mattis on Thursday tried to tamp down President Trump's recent threats of a looming strike on Syria, insisting the commander-in-chief had not yet decided on a response. 

Mattis acknowledged Trump's tweet from a day earlier, which warned Russia that U.S. missiles fired at Syria "will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!'"

Speaking before the House Armed Services Committee, Mattis indicated the administration was weighing a response that would both prevent an escalation in the region and send a strong message to Syrian President Bashar Assad for an alleged chemical weapons attack carried out over the weekend.

"We are trying to stop the murder of innocent people. But on a strategic level, it's how do we keep this from escalating out of control, if you get my drift on that," Mattis told lawmakers.

 

Decision coming soon, after Trump talks to France and UK: Mattis said he would leave after the hearing to attend an afternoon meeting of the president's National Security Council, where he and other advisors "will take forward the various options to the president."

The White House released a statement after the meeting that asserted "no final decision has been made."

"We are continuing to assess intelligence and are engaged in conversations with our partners and allies. The President will speak with President Macron and Prime Minister May this evening," said press secretary Sarah Huckabeee Sanders.

 

Trump pushes back on criticism of tweet: Trump stressed in a tweet early Thursday that he never said when a military strike on Syria would happen, adding it could be "soon or not so soon at all!"

"Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!" he tweeted.

"In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our 'Thank you America?'"

 

And Ryan says no need for Congress to authorize a Syria strike. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Thursday that President TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency MORE has broad authority to attack Syria, precluding the need for Congress to act beforehand.

"The existing AUMF gives him the authority he needs to do what he may or may not do," Ryan said during a press briefing in the Capitol. 

The Pentagon is currently operating under a 17-year-old authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) approved in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks. A number of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have pushed for years for Congress to pass an updated AUMF, reflecting the expanding geography and evolving enemies that have marked the war against terrorism since 2001. 

  

MATTIS INSISTS GUARD ISN'T AT BORDER LONG-TERM: Top national security House Democrats are demanding more information from the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on last week's deployment of National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexican border.

"We require a clearer explanation of the impetus for this approach at a time when border crossings are at a 40-year low," the lawmakers write in a Wednesday letter to Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

But Mattis in a House Armed Services Committee hearing described the deployment of up to 4,000 guardsmen to the border is "an anticipatory backing-up" of Customs and Border Patrol.

Mattis also insisted that the move "right now ... is not a long-term deployment."

 

What the Dems want: The lawmakers are asking for an answer on when DHS and the Pentagon completed an assessment that identified the Guard as a necessity along the southwest border, and the factors used to determine the cost of the endeavor.

They also want more details on the total number of guardsmen to be sent, who will govern them, what role they will play along the border, the estimated cost of the deployment and where the money will come from.

Pentagon officials have not said whether the effort will be paid for with Department of Defense dollars, or how the department will support the plan to send as many as 4,000 National Guard troops to bolster DHS's border security efforts.

 

DEMS WANT MATTIS TO REVEAL EXPERTS ON TRANSGENDER POLICY: Top defense committee Democrats want Mattis to reveal who sat on a panel of experts that helped draft the Pentagon's controversial transgender policy.

"We were surprised and disappointed by the recommendations contained in that memorandum. In our view, these recommendations contradict previous findings from the Department of Defense (DOD) and the professional medical community," Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.) and Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), the ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services committees, respectively, wrote in a letter.

Late last month, the Pentagon released a three-page memo and 44-page report Mattis submitted to Trump outlining his recommendations on how to handle transgender troops.

 

Who recommended what's in the memo? Drafted by an unnamed panel of experts of senior uniformed and civilian Defense Department leaders, the memo makes recommendations that would prevent the enlistment of transgender people diagnosed with gender dysphoria or those who have already undergone or begun a gender transition. 

The Pentagon has been mum on who the so-called experts are, as the report's analysis of medical research has been harshly criticized as misrepresenting the findings or leaving out important context.

The lawmakers ask Mattis to name who was on the expert panel, who they consulted with and whether they consulted with any medical professionals with expertise in gender dysphoria. 

 

ICYMI:

-- The Hill: Trump thanks California governor for sending troops to border: 'Good job'

-- The Hill: Haley attends Pompeo secretary of State confirmation hearing

-- The Hill: Pompeo confirms 'a couple hundred' Russians killed in Syria

-- The Hill: Trump, May vow to deter further use of chemical weapons by Assad: UK

-- The Hill: US found chlorine gas, nerve agent in samples from Syria attack: report

-- The Hill: International watchdog deploys team to probe suspected Syria chemical attack