Overnight Defense: Uncertainty for VA after Trump pick withdraws | Veterans groups hope for more input | Pompeo confirmed as secretary of State | Mattis defends Iran deal as Trump deadline nears

Overnight Defense: Uncertainty for VA after Trump pick withdraws | Veterans groups hope for more input | Pompeo confirmed as secretary of State | Mattis defends Iran deal as Trump deadline nears
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THE TOPLINE: Navy Adm. Ronny Jackson on Thursday withdrew as President Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) amid mounting accusations of misconduct that raised new questions about the president's personnel decisions.

In a lengthy statement, Jackson called the allegations "false and fabricated," but said he pulled out to allow Trump to move forward with a new nominee.

"Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction for this president and the important issue we must be addressing -- how we give the best care to our nation's heroes," he said.

Jackson, the head White House physician, said he "did not expect to have to dignify baseless and anonymous attacks on my character and integrity."

 

Republicans lost confidence even as Trump defended choice: Trump called into the "Fox & Friends" morning show shortly after Jackson dropped out to praise him as a "highly respected" doctor who "runs a fantastic operation" at the White House.

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The president blamed Democrats for sinking his nomination, even though many Republicans also wanted Jackson to withdraw.

"These are false accusations," Trump said. "They're trying to destroy a man. I did say, 'Welcome to Washington. Welcome to the swamp.'"

 

And veterans groups aren't happy with Trump: A slew of veterans said they were frustrated with Jackson throughout his nomination process, causing them to lose patience with the White House

Various veterans groups told The Washington Examiner that the White House never reached out to them after Trump nominated Jackson. 

"Nobody contacted us to discuss nominees. That's their prerogative, but we represent 2 million American veterans in every legislative district in the country. So I think we're pretty finely tuned in to how the VA works, and what veterans want," an American Legion spokesman told the outlet. 

 

Now what: Trump said he has a replacement in mind for Jackson, but declined to say who it is. He said his next nominee has more political experience than the former combat physician.

The White House said Jackson will continue to work at the White House Medical Unit, but it's not clear whether he will still serve as the president's lead physician.

"Admiral Jackson is a doctor in the United States Navy assigned to the White House and is here at work today," press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

 

One name: A report Thursday evening said Trump is considering former Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), who once chaired the House Veterans Affairs Committee, for VA secretary.

"He may have somebody in mind, but I know that an official nominee is not imminent," an official told The Washington Examiner. "It's not going to be this week, maybe not even next week."

 

POMPEO IS CONFIRMED: The Senate confirmed CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be secretary of State on Thursday, overcoming steep opposition to his nomination.

Senators voted 57-42, well over the simple majority needed for approval by the chamber.

Pompeo's confirmation was a virtual lock after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) reversed his position and said he would support Trump's pick.

The announcement came amid an intense pressure campaign by the White House and spared Pompeo the dubious distinction of being the first secretary of State nominee since at least 1925 to fail to win over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

 

White House releases photos of Pompeo and Kim Jong Un: Following Pompeo's confirmation, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted photos of the new Secretary of State with Kim.

"Great to have Secretary Pompeo confirmed. He will do an excellent job helping @POTUS lead our efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula," she wrote.

The president had said last week that Pompeo quietly traveled to North Korea over the Easter weekend, when he was still CIA director, as part of the administration's efforts to set up a meeting between Trump and Kim.

Pompeo is already on his first trip as secretary of State.

 

And Gina Haspel takes over at CIA: Haspel on Thursday assumed her role as acting director of the CIA after Pompeo, the agency's former director, was confirmed as secretary of state by the Senate. 

While she has 33 years of experience working in the intelligence community, her critics have cited her ties to the CIA's harsh interrogation techniques after the Sept. 11 attacks. 

 

What's next for Haspel: The Hill reported on Wednesday that the CIA will permit senators considering her nomination to review some classified information related to her undercover background following pressure from Democrats on Capitol Hill. 

 

MATTIS DEFENDS ASPECTS OF IRAN DEAL: Defense Secretary James Mattis on Thursday praised certain parts of the Iran nuclear deal, as President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate US sending 20,000 troops to Europe for largest exercises since Cold War Barr criticizes FBI, says it's possible agents acted in 'bad faith' in Trump probe MORE repeatedly bashed the multi-nation agreement this week and threatened to pull the United States out of it.

Asked at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing whether the U.S. should stay in the Iran deal, Mattis would not give his opinion. He later said that the deal's provisions allow "pretty robust" oversight of what Iran is doing.

"I've read it now three times ... and I will say that it is written almost with an assumption that Iran would try to cheat," he told lawmakers.

"So the verification, what is in there, is actually pretty robust as far as our intrusive ability" for the International Atomic Energy Agency to check on whether Iran is complying.

Mattis has said in the past that the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, isn't perfect, but that staying in it would be in America's national security interest.

 

DETAILS LEAK ON CLASSIFIED NIGER REPORT:classified report on the deadly attack in Niger last fall found that disregard for the chain of command and a rush to approve a mission were contributing factors to the deaths of four U.S. soldiers, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.


The issues:
The 6,000-page report says that low-level commanders at U.S. Africa Command, eager to hit at local militant groups, took risks to get operations approved, according to officials familiar with the report.

In one case, at least one officer copied and pasted orders from a different mission into the new mission's concept of operations to get the plan approved.

The report details several more missteps and described a disregard for military procedures.

 

GOP chairman isn't happy about leak: Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) on Thursday criticized a leak of the report's details ahead of family members being briefed.

"It is deeply troubling that individuals with access to the report chose to leak details of the investigation before families of the fallen could be fully briefed. To me, that is an unconscionable breach of faith with the families of our warfighters and perhaps a violation of law."

Thornberry has directed an inquiry to make sure that the leak did not come from his committee and urged his fellow chairs with access to the report to do the same.

 

ICYMI:

-- The Hill: Senate confirms commanders for US military in Asia-Pacific, North America

-- The Hill: Senators look to block F-35 delivery to Turkey over imprisoned American pastor

-- The Hill: 49 senators accuse Mattis of bringing back 'don't ask, don't tell'

-- The Hill: Report: Pentagon's own data contradicts recommendations on transgender troops

-- The Hill: First 2019 appropriations bill advances

-- The Hill: Voters back Trump's handling of Syria air strikes, North Korea: poll

-- The Hill: Opinion: How Trump and Merkel can fix the Iranian nuclear deal

-- The Hill: Opinion: Trump's trade policy leaves China wide open on its path to dominance

-- Defense News: Mattis: New defense strategy won't work under budget caps