Overnight Defense: Trump aide's comment mocking McCain sparks outrage | Haspel gets another 'no' vote | Pompeo floats North Korea aid for denuclearization

Overnight Defense: Trump aide's comment mocking McCain sparks outrage | Haspel gets another 'no' vote | Pompeo floats North Korea aid for denuclearization
© Camille Fine


Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. We're Rebecca Kheel and Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond.


THE TOPLINE: Washington was awash in outrage Friday after a White House aide mocked "dying" war hero and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainAnother recession could hit US in 2019, says credit union association chief R-E-S-P-E-C-T: One legacy of Franklin and McCain is up to us To cure Congress, elect more former military members MORE (R-Ariz.) over his opposition to President TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president MORE's pick to the lead the CIA.

The Hill on Thursday first reported that special assistant Kelly Sadler had dismissed McCain's opposition to Gina Haspel's nomination by saying that "he's dying anyway."

McCain, who was captured during the Vietnam War and tortured, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer last year and has been home in Arizona battling the disease.

Earlier this week, he urged his Senate colleagues to reject Haspel over her record on torture.

White House dodges: The White House was grilled over the comment during Friday's briefing, but press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to address the issue.

"I'm not going to validate a leak, one way or another, out of an internal staff meeting," Sanders said.


Sadler's remarks prompted condemnation from McCain's family, his fellow Vietnam veterans and colleagues on the Armed Services Committee and Congress at-large.

From his family: Meghan McCain, the senator's daughter, hit back at Sadler during her co-hosting job on ABC's "The View." She suggested that Sadler should be fired.

"I don't understand what kind of environment you're working in when that would be acceptable and then you could come to work the next day and still have a job," Meghan McCain said during the show. "And that's all I have to say about it."

The senator's wife, Cindy McCain, also tweeted a reminder to Sadler that McCain has a family.

From Vietnam vets: Vietnam Veterans of America issued a statement Friday calling for Sadler to be fired. The group also took issue with comments from retired Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, who Thursday on Fox Business News revived a false claim that McCain was a "song bird" when he was a prisoner of war.

"As an organization, we have had our disagreements with Senator McCain, but he will always be one of our brothers," Vietnam Veterans of America President John Rowan said in a statement. "What Sadler and McInerney have said will not be forgotten, as it reveals an incredible lack of respect for the service and sacrifice of every veteran, and their relationships with the White House and Fox News should be severed immediately."

From his colleagues: Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedNew York Times: Trump mulling whether to replace Mattis after midterms Overnight Defense: Biden honors McCain at Phoenix memorial service | US considers sending captured ISIS fighters to Gitmo and Iraq | Senators press Trump on ending Yemen civil war Senators press Trump administration on Yemen civil war MORE (D-R.I.), who leads the Armed Services Committee alongside McCain as the ranking member, tweeted that it's "unacceptable for Trump Admin to cruelly mock veterans like @SenJohnMcCain. They may disagree w/ him on issues, but he gave so much for our nation. He & his family deserve respect."

Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCriticizing Trump’s ‘unsung success’ in Puerto Rico is valid — empty rhetoric is not Biden: Delay Kavanaugh vote to give accuser a fair, respectful hearing Ken Starr says 'I trust Brett Kavanaugh' over allegations that are 'so wildly out of character' MORE, a close friend of McCain's who also serves on the committee, told CNN that "nobody is laughing in the Senate."

Another committee member, Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstGOP senator divorcing from husband GOP senators introduce bill to preserve ObamaCare's pre-existing conditions protections Pence: Trump’s national security will be as 'dominant' in space as it is on Earth MORE (R-Iowa), tweeted that "our nation should be grateful for the exemplary service and sacrifice of @SenJohnMcCain, and treat this war hero and his family with the civility and respect they deserve."

Members of the House also gave McCain their support.

"It's a sad day in this country when White House officials are mocking a man who, while serving his country, was tortured as a prisoner of war. He's more than earned the right to speak out on these matters," Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) said in a statement, demanding a public apology from the White House.

And former Vice President Biden also chimed in.

"People have wondered when decency would hit rock bottom with this administration," Biden said in a statement. "It happened yesterday."


HASPEL COUNT: Outside of the outrage over Sadler's comment, there's also the question of whether McCain's position on Haspel will sway any of his colleagues.

On Friday, Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Cuomo wins and Manafort plea deal Virginia reps urge Trump to declare federal emergency ahead of Hurricane Florence More Dems come out in public opposition to Kavanaugh MORE (D-Va.) became the latest Democrat to oppose Haspel, citing her involvement in the so-called enhanced interrogation program and McCain's stance.

"I believe her role in the Agency's use of torture and efforts to destroy evidence of it was neither minor nor incidental. In particular, I was especially disturbed that she personally wrote a cable ordering the destruction of videotape evidence of the Agency's use of torture," Kaine said in a statement.

Kaine also said he echoed "my colleague John McCain's disappointment in Gina Haspel's failure to condemn it as immoral during her hearing."

Where that leaves Haspel: With McCain absent and Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSome employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump says Dems inflated Puerto Rico death toll | House cancels Friday votes | Florence starts to hit coast The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Facing major hurricane, Trump is tested MORE (R-Ky.) vowing to oppose Haspel, she needs at least one Democratic vote to be confirmed.

But if other GOP senators defect -- and several have said they're on the fence -- or McCain returns to Washington, she will need to pick up more Democratic support.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinKavanaugh becomes September surprise for midterm candidates Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (D-W.Va.) is the only Democrat who has said he will support Haspel so far.


BILLIONAIRE MILITARY CONTRACTOR TO LEAD INTEL BOARD: President Trump on Friday announced that Stephen Feinberg, a New York billionaire who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, will chair a White House executive board that reviews the effectiveness and legality of foreign intelligence.

Feinberg in the early months of Trump's presidency was rumored to be under consideration to lead some kind of broad-based review of the intelligence community, which Trump was then blaming for the departure of his first national security advisor, Michael Flynn.

But that role never materialized. Now, he will head the so-called President's Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB) -- a committee made up of non-government employees that gets access to a wide swath of intelligence information and acts as an independent monitor on the 17 agencies that make up the intelligence community.

The Hill's Katie Bo Williams has more here.


MORE FALLOUT FROM IRAN DEAL DECISION: A top nuclear expert has resigned from the State Department following President Trump's decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.

Richard Johnson, acting assistant coordinator in the agency's Office of Iran Nuclear Implementation, stepped down this week, according to Foreign Policy.

Johnson had been involved in negotiations with European countries working to save the deal.

Why he left: Officials told Foreign Policy that the 38-year-old Johnson's departure is the latest symptom of what they have dubbed a "brain drain" in the agency under the Trump administration. About 60 percent of top-ranking career diplomats left the department under Trump.

"I am proud to have played a small part in this work, particularly the extraordinary achievement of implementing the [deal] with Iran, which has clearly been successful in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," Johnson said in an email to colleagues about his departure.

German leader rips Trump for decision: German Chancellor Angela Merkel is criticizing Trump's decision, saying it "undermines trust in the international order."

"I believe it is wrong to unilaterally tear up the agreement, which was agreed on and which was unanimously approved by the U.N. Security Council," Merkel said.

Merkel, along with French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May, has criticized Trump for pulling the U.S. out of the agreement and vowing to reinstate economic sanctions on Iran.


POMPEO FLOATS NORTH KOREA AID FOR DENUCLEARIZATION: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that the United States would be willing to offer economic help to North Korea if Pyongyang takes concrete steps toward denuclearization.

"If North Korea takes bold action to quickly denuclearize, the United States is prepared to work with North Korea to achieve prosperity on the par with our South Korean friends," Pompeo said during a joint press conference with his South Korean counterpart.

Pompeo spoke in Washington a day after returning from Pyongyang, where he said he had "good" and "substantive" conversations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and secured the release of three American prisoners being held in North Korea.

Why it matters: The sanctions noose tightened around North Korea over the last year, and some say that's why Kim wants to meet with Trump.

Past attempts at striking a deal with North Korea have seen the international community lift sanctions and provide economic aid only for Pyongyang to renege on its commitments.

The Trump administration has insisted it won't fall into that trap. Pompeo reiterated Friday that there must be "complete" and "verifiable" denuclearization. He also said a massive inspection and monitoring regime would be required to ensure Pyongyang's compliance.



The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host a discussion on Russia's ground forces at 10 a.m. at in Washington. https://bit.ly/2KTfrXr

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will host a panel on how to negotiate with North Korea at 10 a.m. in Washington. http://ceip.org/2rwyKNc

The Atlantic Council will host a discussion on the ramifications of President Trump's Iran decision at noon in Washington. https://bit.ly/2IyvV8V



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