Overnight Defense: Graham clashed with Pentagon chief over Syria | Talk grows that Trump will fire Coats | Coast Guard officer accused of domestic terrorism plot
Overnight Defense: More Trump drama over Russia | Appeals court rules against Trump on transgender ban | Boeing wins Air Force One contract | Military parade to reportedly cost $12M
Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond.
THE TOPLINE: The controversy over President Trump's Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin entered a third day Wednesday.
At the top of a Cabinet meeting, Trump appeared to contradict his intelligence agencies, responding to a reporter's question on whether Russia is still targeting the United States by saying "No."
Trump also asserted, as he has before, that he is tough on Russia in an unprecedented way.
"There has never been a president as tough on Russia as I have been," Trump told reporters.
The walk-back: At a briefing later Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump told her he was "saying 'no' to answering questions" and not to the reporter's question itself.
"He does believe that they would target, certainly, [the] U.S. election," Sanders said.
Sanders also said that "the president and his administration are working very hard to make sure that Russia is unable to meddle in our elections as they have done in the past."
What the intelligence community says: Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said as recently as Monday that Russia's hostile activities against the U.S. and its allies are "ongoing."
In a statement of Trump's Helsinki press conference, Coats also underscored the intelligence agencies' worry that Russia is prepared to interfere with this fall's midterm elections.
"We have been clear in our assessment of Russian meddling in our 2016 elections and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy," Coats said.
Monday's statement also came after Coats warned on Friday that daily cyber attacks from Russia and other state actors means "the warning lights are blinking red again," invoking former CIA Director George Tenet's warning ahead of the 9/11 attacks.
Flake and Coons said on Wednesday that they will try to pass their resolution on Thursday. Under Senate rules, any one senator will be able to block them.
The resolution doesn't directly mention Trump but comes after the president on Monday refused to denounce Russia's election meddling and appeared to echo Russian President Vladimir Putin's denial of Moscow's work to influence the election.
"This body must reaffirm that we stand with the men and women of the Department of Justice. ... I hope the president will take the word of our intelligence agencies rather than the empty words of a dictator," Flake said in a statement.
TRANSGENDER TROOPS RULING: Another ruling in a lawsuit against Trump's transgender troops ban, another loss for the administration.
An appeals court on Wednesday ruled against the Trump administration and upheld a court order stalling a ban on transgender individuals serving in the military.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld a block on the implementation of the ban.
The court's move enables transgender people to continue enlisting in the military until the opposing parties go to trial, expected in April 2019.
The 9th Circuit ruling holds that the stay requested by the administration "would upend, rather than preserve, the status quo," which currently allows transgender people to serve.
How we got here: Trump abruptly announced on Twitter in June 2017 that he would ban transgender individuals from serving "in any capacity" in the U.S. military.
The move sought to reverse the Obama administration's decision to begin allowing transgender troops to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces, but that decision was still under final review at the time Trump announced the ban.
Multiple groups filed lawsuits against the ban, including the group involved in Wednesday's case. The lawsuit was brought by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN in Seattle, and joined by the state of Washington on behalf of six troops that are currently serving, three people seeking to enlist and three LGBT rights groups - the Human Rights Campaign, the Gender Justice League and the American Military Partner Association.
In December 2017, Judge Marsha Pechman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington granted a preliminary injunction to block the ban and "preserve the status quo."
The administration pushed back and moved to dissolve the injunction in April, pointing to a March memorandum laying out its revised plans to move forward with the policy, which bans most transgender people from serving in the military "except under certain limited circumstances."
But Pechman ruled the lawsuit would go to trial and the injunction would stay in place as the memo did not represent a new policy, but rather an implementation of the ban Trump first announced on Twitter.
The Trump administration then appealed the April ruling, arguing that allowing the ban to move forward was necessary to "prevent irreparable harm to military interests."
Pechman in June once again blocked the ban, and wrote that the Trump administration made no arguments she had not already rejected and noted that there would be no demonstrable harm in keeping the injunction in place.
Plaintiffs celebrate: Staff Sgt. Cathrine Schmid said she was grateful for Wednesday's and other court rulings in the plaintiffs' favor.
"Seven courts across the country have considered this so-called plan, and seven courts have recognized that there is no defensible reason to bar transgender Americans from serving our nation," Schmid said. "Being transgender has no impact on my ability to perform my duties. I'm grateful that the courts to date have recognized the value in our service, and I look forward to the day when we can put this argument behind us and focus on what's really important-- the accomplishment of our mission, and the welfare of our service members."
Added Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Peter Renn: "The Ninth Circuit, much like the six other courts to have considered the proposed policy, has recognized it for what it is - blatant and impermissible discrimination. ... It has been one year since President Trump announced via tweet his plan to bar transgender people from the military, and in that year four district courts and, now, three courts of appeal have blocked its implementation. What more evidence does the administration need before it abandons this discriminatory and harmful scheme to prevent brave and qualified transgender people from serving their country?"
PARADE PRICE TAG: As Veterans Day gets closer, details of Trump's planned military parade are trickling out.
On Wednesday, CNN reported that the parade in Washington, D.C., will cost close to $12 million. The news outlet cited three unnamed U.S defense officials.
The cost of the parade has been estimated at anywhere between $10 million and $30 million, but CNN reported that defense officials it spoke to increasingly think it will land at $12 million.
One official told CNN the $12 million figure is a "a planning figure" and that it could still change.
By comparison: A $12 million parade would cost just a little less than the U.S.-South Korea large scale military exercise that Trump canceled during his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump announced following his meeting that the U.S. would halt war games on the Korean peninsula amid ongoing negotiations about denuclearization.
The Pentagon this month said the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise it canceled would have cost close to $14 million.
Trump argued the move was justified because of the associated cost-savings, though he also emphasized that it was an unnecessary provocation given the talks with Kim.
"Holding back 'war games' during the negotiations was my request because they are VERY EXPENSIVE and set a bad light during a good faith negotiations," Trump tweeted on June 17. "Also, quite provocative. Can start up immediately if talks break down, which I hope will not happen!"
BOEING OFFICIALLY WINS AIR FORCE ONE CONTRACT: The White House announced Wednesday that Boeing has been awarded a $3.9 billion contract to "design, modify, test, certify, and deliver" two flight-ready aircraft to be used as Air Force One planes for the president by 2024.
The announced deal comes as President Trump said in an interview broadcast this week that the redesigned aircraft will feature a red, white and blue color scheme, departing from aircraft's traditional white and light blue.
The agreement finalizes an "informal" deal that the White House announced in February, with the price tag for the two aircraft dropping $1.4 billion from Boeing's initial estimate of $5.3 billion for the contract.
"President Donald J. Trump has emphasized the need to minimize the cost of replacing the two existing Air Force One aircraft. Yesterday's action meets that objective and reflects the President's commitment to our military and to protecting taxpayer dollars," the White House said in the statement Wednesday.
Flashback: Trump criticized Boeing during his transition for the high costs of ordering new aircraft to serve as presidential planes.
"Costs are out of control," Trump tweeted in December 2016. "Cancel order!"
Trump began negotiations with the company after taking office, vowing that costs would go "WAY DOWN" or he would cancel the order.
The figure Trump cited in the complaint was $4 billion, not much higher than the $3.9 billion contract awarded this week.
Why so much: The plane designated as Air Force One typically comes with a high price tag because it comes equipped with sophisticated defenses, top-of-the-line communications systems and other military specifications.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, briefs the press via video from Tampa, Fla., on operations in the his area of responsibility at 8:45 a.m. Watch live at defense.gov/live.
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